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Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is when discs wear out over time and is usually caused by aging and regular wear and tear. It is characterized by pain, numbness and weakness in shoulders, arms or hand. This can cause major discomfort and interfere with daily life and activities.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Causes

Several factors can cause discs to degenerate, including age. Specific factors include:

The drying out of the disc. When we are born, the disc is about 80 percent water. As we age, the disc dries out and doesn’t absorb shocks as well.

Daily activities and sports, which cause tears in the outer core of the disc. By age 60, most people have some degree of disc degeneration. Not everyone at that age has back pain, however.

Injuries, which can cause swelling, soreness and instability. This can result in low back pain.

Symptoms

The most indicative symptom of degenerative disc disease is a low-grade, continuous pain around the degenerating disc that occasionally flares up into more severe, potentially disabling pain.

Pain flare-ups can be related to recent activity and abnormal stress on the spine, or they may arise suddenly with no obvious cause. Episodes can last between a few days to several weeks before returning to low levels of pain or temporarily going away entirely.

Other common symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:

  • Increased pain with activities that involve bending or twisting the spine, as well as lifting something heavy
  • A “giving out” sensation, caused by spinal instability, in which the neck or back feels as if it is unable to provide basic support, and may lock up and make movement feel difficult.
  • Muscle tension or muscle spasms, which are common effects of spinal instability. In some cases, a degenerated disc may cause no pain but muscle spasms are severely painful and temporarily debilitating.
  • Possible radiating pain that feels sharp, stabbing, or hot. In cases of cervical disc degeneration, this pain is felt in the shoulder, arm, or hand (called a cervical radiculopathy); in cases of lumbar disc degeneration, pain is felt in the hips, buttocks, or down the back of the leg (called a lumbar radiculopathy).
  • Increased pain when holding certain positions, such as sitting or standing for extended periods (exacerbating low back pain), or looking down too long at a cell phone or book (worsening neck pain).
  • Reduced pain when changing positions frequently, rather than remaining seated or standing for prolonged periods. Likewise, regularly stretching the neck can decrease cervical disc pain, and taking short, frequent walks during the day can decrease lumbar disc pain.
  • Decreased pain with certain positions, such as sitting in a reclining position or lying down with a pillow under the knees, or using a pillow that maintains the neck’s natural curvature during sleep.

Treatments

The following treatments may be used to treat degenerative disc disease:

  • Anterior cervical fusions
  • Minimally invasive fusions and decompressions
  • Anterior cervical fusion with cages and plates
  • Percutaneous pedicle screw fixation
  • XLIF (extreme lateral lumbar interbody fusion)
  • Aspen (interspinous process fusion)
  • Robotic Spine Surgery (ExcelsiusGPS)
  • Foraminotomy
  • Anterior cervical fusion with cage
  • Anterior cervical fusion with cages and plate
  • Posterior cervical fusion
  • Anterior lumbar interbody fusion
  • Extreme lateral lumbar interbody fusions (XLIF)
  • Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF)
  • Pedicle screw fixation
  • Aspen posterior fusion
  • Interspinous process fusion (ILIF)

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