“Degenerative disc disease” (DDD) is, admittedly, a scary term. No one wants to hear that they have a disease, even though “disease” is a bit of a misnomer here because DDD is actually more of a condition. But, the word “degenerative” really isn’t all that better, and those who receive this diagnosis typically have the same question: Is degenerative disc disease treatable?
Below is a rundown of the most proven and promising treatment options for degenerative disc disease.
What, exactly, is degenerative disc disease?
“Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition where one or more discs in the back lose their strength. Degenerative disc disease, despite the name, isn’t technically a disease. It’s a progressive condition that happens over time from wear and tear, or injury,” said Healthline. “The discs in your back are located in between the vertebrae of the spine. They act as cushions and shock absorbers. Discs help you stand up straight. And they also help you move through everyday motions, such as twisting around and bending over. Over time, DDD can worsen. It can cause mild to extreme pain that may interfere with your everyday activities.”
Aging is the most common cause of degenerative disc disease, but the condition can also be caused by overuse. Not everyone experiences symptoms, which can include:
- Chronic lower back and/or neck pain
- Weakness or numbness in the arms
- Worsening pain when you twist or bend
- A pins-and-needles sensation
- Sudden flare-ups that can include cramps down the legs and even into the buttocks—especially if the pain increases when you sit or stand
Won’t the pain go away on its own?
Ever had back pain that you ignored or for which you delayed treatment because you thought it would just disappear on its own one day? Many of us are guilty of this at one time or another. But, especially, as we age, failing to address back pain can be dangerous.
For some people, untreated degenerative disc disease can lead to more serious conditions like bone spurs, disk tears, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, and, “In extreme cases, compressed nerves can lead to cauda equine syndrome, an especially dangerous condition that requires immediate surgery to avoid potential paralysis,” said Dr. Mark C. Valente, Board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon and Founder and Medical Director of the DISC Spine Institute. “Symptoms may include pain, numbness, tingling, weakness of the legs and loss of bowel and bladder control.”
So, is degenerative disc disease treatable? Yes. Here are some treatment options:
Other back conditions may heal without medical intervention, but, as Healthline said, “Once a disc is damaged, it can’t repair itself.” A number of conservative treatments can, however, provide relief, and the best news is that most people who suffer from degenerative disc disease can be successfully treated without surgery.
Heat and cold therapy and over-the-counter medications like Advil can help with the pain and inflammation associated with DDD. Physical therapy is another oft-prescribed treatment and additional “medical options include injecting the joints next to the damaged disc with steroids and a local anesthetic,” said Medical News Today. “These are called facet joint injections. They can provide effective pain relief.”
If, after a period of time, the pain is not improving or the disc is continuing to degenerate, surgery may be warranted. Thankfully, there are several minimally invasive surgical procedures for degenerative disc disease, including discectomy; foraminotomy; and laminectomy. These are all outpatient procedures that involve very minimal blood loss and no sutures. Incisions are less than an inch long, often requiring just a BAND-AID.
When it’s time to put an end to your pain, visit the DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain today. Minimally invasive surgical techniques mean treating chronic back pain is easier than ever, with outpatient treatments, small incisions, and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.