Degenerative Disc Disease

Treatment options for degenerative disc disease

Called a ‘disease,’ this is more of a condition that occurs naturally in aging bodies

If you have degenerative disc disease, you may experience continual low-grade pain that occasionally flares up into severe, disabling pain which makes normal living almost impossible.

Degenerative disc disease is quite common. By some estimates, approximately 40 percent of people over 40 experience symptoms associated with it, with that figure increasing to nearly 80 percent of people by the age of 80.

Luckily, there are a range of treatment options which the specialists at Allegheny Pain Management can employ to both combat the pain associated with degenerative disc disease while also correcting some of the problems that cause it.

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is the normal wearing down of the discs in your spine. These discs are cushions between the spine’s vertebrae and are what makes the back flexible.
These discs are made of a soft inner core and a tough outer wall. As you age, these discs dry out or may crack. Flatter discs can’t absorb shock and give less padding between the vertebrae, which may cause the bones to interact with nerves. Tears or cracks in the discs near nerves can be painful. If the wall of the disc breaks down, the disc’s soft core may bulge or slip out of place; this is called a slipped or herniated disc and may cause pain if it affects nearby nerves.

Degenerative disc disease pain is typically a sharp or constant pain in the back or neck. The pain may come and go, be bothersome or severe, and last a few days or a few months. It may feel worse when you sit, better if you stand or walk, and improves if you change positions or lie down.

Degenerative disc disease may lead to numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, or make the leg muscles weak, which is a sign that the damaged discs are affecting nerves near the spine.

How is degenerative disc disease diagnosed?

Degenerative disc disease is generally diagnosed through imaging tests. These may include X-rays that show narrowed spinal channels, fractures, bone spurs, or osteoarthritis. X-rays may be lateral view, anteroposterior view, and posteroanterior. A physician may also order flexion and extension X-rays to show spine stability and range of motion.
Computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be ordered to show soft tissues in the spin and identify problems such as a bulging or herniated disc. Other tests may include a bone scan, discography, myelogram, a physical exam, and blood tests to detect infections.

What are treatments for degenerative disc disease?

Severe cases of degenerative disc disease can cause extreme pain that disrupts life. Thankfully, there are many treatment options for pain sufferers which can be performed at Allegheny Pain Management.

Treatment options for degenerative disc disease fall into two categories: nonsurgical treatments and surgical treatments.

Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • Pain control, such as anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, electrical stimulation, back braces, and heat or ice therapy
  • Physical therapy, such as stretching and strengthening
  • Lifestyle changes, like losing weight or changes to posture

Surgical treatments may include:

  • Spinal decompression surgery, which includes procedures that relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, such as removing the facet joint, enlarging the spinal nerve exit cavity, removing the bony plate at the back of the vertebra, removing part of all of a disc, or removing the entire affected vertebra.
  • Spinal fusion surgery, where two or more vertebrae are fused to prevent motion between them
  • Artificial disc replacement surgery, where the problem disc is removed and replaced with an artificial disc

How effective are degenerative disc disease treatments?

The effectiveness of degenerative disc disease treatments vary according to severity, age, treatment option, and follow-through. Minimally invasive surgical treatments report success rates of 60-70 percent, while herniated disc surgery success rates are as high as 80 percent. Spinal fusion surgery success rates are 70-90 percent, while sciatic surgery success rate are about 90 percent.

Back pain solutions from Allegheny Pain Management

If you are struggling with back pain and not sure what to do, talk to the experts at Allegheny Pain Management, who can guide you through safe and effective treatment options.


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