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Degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease describes the wide array of symptoms associated with the natural, age-related degeneration of the spinal discs. These cushioning discs are located between each vertebra and serve as the spine’s shock absorbers.

What causes degenerative disc disease?

Spinal discs are made up of a soft, gel-like interior that is encased by a tougher outer shell of cartilage. As we age, years of wear and tear begin to take their toll on the discs, which lose water content and elasticity over time.

While aging is inevitable, certain steps can be taken to slow the degeneration process, maintain range of motion and promote overall spinal health. These steps include:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Keep good posture
  • Avoid strenuous movements and activities
  • Regularly engage in gentle exercise
  • Eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet
  • Avoid tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption

What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?

The symptoms associated with degenerative disc disease vary from person to person depending on the extent of the disc deterioration and what section of the spine is affected. Generally speaking, though, most symptoms develop as a result of nerve compression from shifting spinal components. Common signs of nerve compression include numbness, tingling sensations and radiating or shooting pain.

How is degenerative disc disease diagnosed?

People with persistent back pain typically begin by consulting with their primary care physician. This physician will gather information regarding the patient’s symptoms and medical history and perform a thorough evaluation. Diagnostic tests such as an X-ray, MRI or CT scan may then be recommended to check for visual indicators of disc degeneration.

How is degenerative disc disease treated?

People with degenerative disc disease have several conservative treatment options to choose from to help manage their symptoms and improve mobility. Most physicians will recommend one or more of the following therapies:

  • Physical therapy
  • Prescription or over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Heat and ice therapy
  • Gentle stretching and cardiovascular exercises
  • Alternative treatments like massage therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic care

Will I need surgery?

Surgery is not recommended as a first course of treatment. However, people with severe symptoms that do not improve with conservative treatments may be considered candidates for surgery. At Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia we offer minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open spine surgeries. Our procedures are performed by board-certified surgeons+ who use a less than 1-inch incision and muscle-sparing techniques to streamline the recovery process^ for our patients.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today to receive your no-cost MRI review* and learn if you are a potential candidate for minimally invasive surgery.