Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition that affects millions of men and women in the U.S. It is a spinal condition that becomes increasingly more common with age. In fact, it’s estimated about 40% of people over the age of 40 have some form of degenerative disc disease, increasing to about 80% of those aged 80 years and older. DDD is one of the most common causes of chronic pain in the back and neck.
What causes degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease occurs when the spongy discs that separate each pair of spine bones (vertebrae) begin to break down and change as a result of aging. In a healthy back and neck, discs provide cushioning between the vertebrae while also supporting flexibility and movement in the spine. Each disc comprises a tough, fibrous outer “shell” called the annulus fibrosus that surrounds a gel-like interior called the nucleus pulposus. As we age, the discs begin to lose moisture content, causing the discs to shrink so they’re no longer able to provide as much support and shock absorption. The tough outer shell becomes brittle and can develop small cracks or fissures that can allow the gel interior to bulge outward or even leak.
Over time, the discs can become compressed, and the space between the vertebrae become smaller, increasing the risk of painful friction when moving or flexing the back or neck. Often, disc herniation occurs, resulting in irritation and inflammation of the nerves where they exit the spine. Herniation, in turn, can result in pain, numbness and other symptoms radiating into the arms, legs and other areas of the body. Disc herniation is especially common in the neck and lower back, areas where the spine is especially flexible and prone to movement-related strain.
How is degenerative disc disease treated?
Most people benefit from conservative treatment options, like regular application of hot and cold compresses, ice packs and heating pads, over-the-counter pain relievers and therapeutic stretching exercises to improve circulation and flexibility. Having regular checkups and evaluations by a spine specialist is extremely important since degenerative disc disease can eventually cause other problems to develop, like herniated discs or spinal stenosis. Routine evaluations ensure treatment stays on track while also identifying – and treating – other conditions in their earliest stages.
Interestingly, painful symptoms caused by degenerative disc disease may resolve or lessen with age. That’s because the proteins used in pain signal transmission can eventually “burn out.” But just because the symptoms disappear, that doesn’t mean the condition is resolved – quite the contrary. Without symptoms to remind you to take special care of your spine, important treatment can be delayed. Continuing to see a back specialist regularly can help prevent the condition from causing additional deterioration that can result in more serious problems.
Find out what’s causing your chronic neck and back pain.
Degenerative disc disease is a common cause of chronic pain and related symptoms in the back and neck, but there are many other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Having a medical evaluation of your spine is the best way to ensure you receive the most appropriate and most effective care for your needs.
At Southern Laser Spine, Dr. Lawrence Alexander offers state-of-the-art care for patients in the Greater Miami area, including conservative options and minimally invasive procedures customized for each patient. Say “goodbye” to chronic back and neck pain, and call the Southern Laser Spine Center at 305-901-1268 to schedule your free phone consultation and evaluation today.