It’s important to note that degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease at all, but is a term used to describe the degeneration of the spinal discs over time, and frequently is secondary to another condition. However, almost everyone faces some level of degeneration as they age. This is because as time goes on, the jelly-like discs between our vertebrae experience normal wear and tear and naturally lose their water content.
Degenerative disc disease is caused by the spinal discs losing their volume, but pain is caused when the discs are unable to absorb shock or have migrated outward, irritating the nerves of the spine. Pain can be a result of inflammation within the disc space, instability in the spine, bone spurs from bones rubbing against each other, or compression of the nerves in the spinal cord. Aside from natural wear and tear, degenerative disc disease may be caused from injury or anything that might have brought trauma to the spine.
Degenerative disc disease can cause pain in all regions of the spine, but it is most common in the low back. Symptoms may begin as mild, but get worse if you bend down or twist the spine. Sitting for long periods of time have been known to worsen symptoms, but lying down often is found to relieve pain. If a nerve is compressed, patients may experience symptoms of sciatica, such as shooting pain down the buttocks and back legs. If degenerative disc disease occurs in the cervical spine, pain and weakness may travel down the shoulders and arms.
At home, patients may find pain relief with over-the-counter pain medications, ice, and rest. However, if pain persists more than a few weeks, patients should come to TriState Pain Institute for degenerative disc disease treatment. Our team will determine the best course of treatment, but often recommend steroid injections for longer lasting pain relief, depending on how the condition has affected the spine. For example, an epidural steroid injection can help those suffering from low back pain and sciatica, while a facet joint injection can reduce swelling of the facet joints. At TriState Pain, we believe in listening to the patient to meet their needs, so we offer a number of other services to treat degenerative disc disease including spinal cord stimulation, nerve stimulation, and many more. If the level of degeneration is high, the physician may advise patients to move away from conventional treatment options and get an evaluation to determine if a spinal fusion is needed to restore the disc space and stabilize the spine.