Degenerative disc disease is an ailment that causes changes in a person’s spinal discs, resulting in moderate to severe back pain. Also referred to as DDD, degenerative disc disease is a common condition that affects approximately 30% of individuals between the ages of 30 and 50, according to a comprehensive study. It’s important to note that DDD is not actually a disease, but a progressive ailment that develops over time, typically from natural wear and tear to the spine. In some instances, patients may be genetically predisposed to DDD or it may develop from a traumatic injury. No matter the cause, it’s imperative patients seek early treatment for DDD to reduce their risk of long-term spinal damage.
In its early stages, degenerative disc disease may not produce any noticeable signs or symptoms. As the condition worsens, patients may develop pain in the low back, legs, and feet, as well as muscle spasms and stiffness along the damaged portion of the spine. Other symptoms include pain that worsens when sitting or standing for a long period of time; sudden, electric-shock-like pain from moving too quickly or lifting a heavy object; pain that radiates from the back to the upper or lower extremities; numbness and tingling in the legs or arms, making it difficult to move about comfortably, and pain that lasts longer than six weeks.
As we mentioned previously, degenerative disc disease is typically caused by natural wear and tear from aging. In addition to old age, DDD may also be caused by smoking, genetics, traumatic injuries, occupations that require heavy lifting, obesity, and underlying spinal conditions. If DDD goes untreated, it may worsen and cause serious damage to the spine, resulting in herniated discs and bone spurs. Patients can reduce their risk of developing DDD by quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, staying active to strengthen the bones in their spine, and by practicing safe, healthy habits at a job that requires lots of heavy lifting. Patients can also talk to an SWSP physician about additional ways to keep their spine safe throughout their lifetime.
Treatment for degenerative disc disease usually depends on the patient’s symptoms. Treatment also depends on the severity of the condition – typically, patients with degenerative disc disease will not require interventional pain therapies when the condition is in its early stages. This means, over-the-counter pain relievers, hot or cold therapy, and physical therapy is typically recommended for patients experiencing mild to moderate pain from their DDD. Should this condition progress and become a herniated disc or a bone spur, patients may require interventional treatment options, such as steroid injections, nerve blocks, TENS units, spinal cord stimulation, and more to help control pain symptoms.