Degenerative Disc Disease

There are plenty of great things to look forward to in your golden years, such as playing with grandkids, finding new hobbies, and enjoying retirement. Unfortunately, degenerative disc disease (DDD) may try to spoil your fun.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is often a part of the body’s natural aging process. As we age, wear and tear from years of activity begin to take a toll. Most notably, the spine’s shock-absorbing intervertebral discs begin to lose water content and become brittle. These discs feature a soft, gel-like core and a tougher outer shell, and when the spine ages, discs are more susceptible to tearing and spilling their soft core into the spinal canal (this occurrence is commonly known as a herniated disc).

Everyone will experience some level of spinal degeneration as they age, but not all will have noticeable symptoms that prevent them from being active. By practicing healthy habits and avoiding strenuous activities, you can increase your chances of maintaining a strong, healthy spine well into the future.

What are the Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?

In the event that your damaged disc(s) have caused spinal nerve or spinal cord compression, you may feel uncomfortable symptoms such as:

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Radiating leg or arm pain

General pain and stiffness may also be a byproduct of DDD. As the spine loses cushion and height from degenerated discs, it becomes less flexible, and performing simple everyday tasks like taking out the garbage or riding a bike can become uncomfortable.

How is Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosed?

Diagnosing this condition usually begins with a thorough physical exam, during which your doctor will assess range of motion and flexibility and check for certain indicators of spinal nerve compression. This may involve testing your reflexes and muscle strength.

The next step is to view the spine in detail through diagnostic tests like X-ray imaging. If degenerative disc disease is present, the X-ray will often show a narrowing of the spaces between each vertebra, or the bones of the spine, which suggests that the discs have eroded to some degree. Bone spurs may also be present on the X-ray, which can contribute to nerve compression and painful symptoms. More detailed forms of imaging such as an MRI or CT scan may also be ordered to confirm a diagnosis.

How is Degenerative Disc Disease Treated?

Treatment plans vary from patient to patient. Factors that can influence your ideal course of treatment include your overall health, activity levels, the extent and location of the degeneration, and what specific symptoms you are experiencing.

If you do not have nerve compression, nonsurgical therapies such as rest, gentle exercise, medication, and physical therapy may be all that’s necessary for you to manage your discomfort and return to the activities you enjoy. Usually, surgery is only recommended if nerve compression is severe or if symptoms fail to respond to nonsurgical treatment.

Florida Medical Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine & Spine is proud to serve families in Wesley Chapel and Tampa, Florida.

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