Friday, January 22, 2016

What Does “Degenerative Disc Disease” Actually Mean?

Degenerative disc disease often refers to symptoms of pain, numbness and weakness that may be radiating around the back or down the leg.  There is no simple explanation of degenerative
disc disease, however, as many patients often wonder what the diagnosis means and how it will affect their daily life.  It is important to note that everyone will have some signs of wear and tear on their spinal discs as they age, but not everyone will experience the symptoms commonly associated with the condition.  It would surprise many patients to know that degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease at all.  Below, we will discuss the nature of degenerative disc disease to help patients better understand the diagnosis.

Anatomy of the Discs
First, in order to better understand the various conditions that can happen as a result of injury, trauma or everyday wear and tear, we need to understand the structure of the spinal discs.  The discs lie between the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers.  There are two parts to these discs: the annulus fibrosus (the tough outer layer) and the nucleus pulposus (the jelly-like core). If these proteins leak into the outer layer and touch the nerves that exit the spine, it can cause a great deal of pain.

The Diagnosis is a Misnomer
While this diagnosis of degenerative disc disease can be alarming to many patients, it is not necessarily a threatening condition.  “Degenerative” to most people means that it will progressively get worse over time; however, this term is referring more to the process of discs degenerating as you age rather than the progression of the pain itself.

“Disease” may also cause confusion as well, because it denotes an illness.  Degenerative disc disease is not an illness but a condition that may or may not cause pain from a damaged disc.  Most, if not all, people will have some form of this condition; however, it is when the discs become damaged, bulging, or herniated that worrisome symptoms begin to arise.  

In most cases, the pain from a degenerative disc condition can be managed with conservative modalities, such as physical therapy and spinal injections.  It is only when these modalities fail to provide adequate relief that surgery is considered.

If you have acute or chronic neck or back pain, turn to our board-certified, fellowship-trained Spine Team for high quality care designed specifically for you. To schedule a consultation at Advanced Bone & Joint, call our office in St. Peters or O'Fallon, Missouri, at (636) 229-4222 or use our secure online appointment request form.

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