Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease is not a disease in and of itself but rather a term used to describe the pain and symptoms from a degenerated disc in the spine. Degeneration of discs occurs naturally as you age, however degeneration does not always result in back and spine pain.  Degenerative disc disease is most commonly found in the cervical spine (neck) or the lumbar spine (lower back). Common MRI findings for degenerative disc disease include:

  • Annular tears
  • Bulging discs
  • Disc desiccation (also known as disc dehydration or dark disc)


Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

Most often, pain associated with degenerative disc disease is caused by inflammation or micromotion instability. These two causes of pain can result in muscle spasms in both the neck and/or lower back. Muscle spasms are a reflex that occur in an effort to stabilize the spine, yet they can be quite painful. Symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:

  • Episodes of severe back or neck pain that last anywhere from a few days to a few months
  • Pain related to certain activities
  • Chronic pain
  • Inability to find comfort in certain positions
  • Pain that eases with walking or running
  • The desire to eliminate pain by frequently changing positions
  • Discomfort when lying flat (such as on a bed)

At times, degenerative disc disease can lead to the development of various spinal conditions. These conditions include:

  • Osteoarthritis of the spine
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Spinal stenosis


Diagnosing Degenerative Disc Disease

The first step in diagnosing degenerative disc disease is to have a physical and neurological exam performed by a spine expert, such as the doctors at The Physician’s. During the exam, your doctor will ask questions pertaining to your pain, such as when the pain began and what makes the pain better and/or worse.

At your appointment, your doctor may observe your posture, range of motion, and physical condition, as well as feel your spine. From there, your reflexes and muscle strength may be tested. At times, it may be necessary to undergo imaging tests, such as an MRI, X-ray, or CT scan. If nerve damage is suspected, a electromyography (EMG) may be recommended to measure nerve responses. Other tests may include a bone scan, discogram (discography), or myelogram. Your doctor will discuss all necessary testing with you prior to performing the tests.


Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease

Treatment for degenerative disc disease can vary on a case by case basis. Depending upon your symptoms, diagnosis, and level of pain, our spine experts may recommend the following treatment options:

  • Pain medications
  • Exercise
  • Physical Therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking
  • Surgery
  • Medical procedures such as epidural steroid injections


Learn More

If you are experiencing back pain from degenerative disc disease, schedule an appointment to be evaluated by one of our expert physicians today. The Physician’s is made up of a highly knowledgeable team of doctors who are committed to providing our patients with unparalleled care and a pain free life. Learn more about our team or request an appointment today.