Degenerative disc

Lower Back | Orthopaedics | Degenerative disc (Disease)


Degeneration of the intervertebral disc, also known as degenerative disc disease (DDD) of the spine, is a condition that can be painful and can greatly affect the quality of ones life. While disc degeneration is a normal part of aging and for most people is not a problem, for certain individuals a degenerated disc can cause severe constant chronic pain.

Causes and risk factors

As we age, the water and protein content of the cartilage of the body changes. This change results in weaker, more fragile, and thin cartilage. Because both the discs and the joints that stack the vertebrae (facet joints) are partly composed of cartilage, these areas are subject to wear and tear over time (degenerative changes). The gradual deterioration of the disc between the vertebrae is referred to as degenerative disc disease, sometimes abbreviated DDD. Wear of the facet cartilage and the bony changes of the adjacent joint is referred to as degenerative facet joint disease or osteoarthritis of the spine. Trauma injury to the spine can also lead to degenerative disc disease.

With symptomatic degenerative disc disease, chronic low back pain sometimes radiates to the hips, or there is pain in the buttocks or thighs while walking; sporadic tingling or weakness through the knees may also be evident. Similar pain may be felt or may increase while sitting, bending, lifting, and twisting. Chronic neck pain can also be caused in the upper spine, with pain radiating to the shoulders, arms and hands. Neck pain may cause interrupted blood supply to the brain resulting in headaches, vertigo and worsened cognitive abilities and memory.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Degenerative disc disease is diagnosed with a medical history and physical exam. Imaging tests may be considered when the symptoms develop after an injury, nerve damage is suspected, or the medical history of the patient suggests conditions that could affect the spine.

To relieve pain, ice or heat should be put on the affected area and acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin , ibuprofen, or naproxen may be used. Aspirin should be avoided by anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome. ...