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Degenerative Disk Disease

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The bones of the spine (vertebrae) are each separated by cushioning disks (intervertebral disks), which help the spine absorb shock and protect the spinal nerves. As these intervertebral disks age and sustain daily impact and injury, a condition called degenerative disk disease (DDD) can develop. Degenerative disk disease is not actually a disease – it instead describes the natural weakening and breakdown process of the spinal disks, and occurs most commonly in the lower back and neck region. As the disks change and gradually collapse, the spaces between the vertebrae become smaller, which can place pressure on the nerves that extend through the spine from the spinal cord. Typically, the effects of degenerative disk disease cause back, neck, and/or nerve pain depending upon where it occurs along the spine. For many individuals this condition can cause serious pain and disability that limits activity and diminishes quality-of-life.

At Garden State Orthopaedics, we have board-certified orthopaedic surgeons with experience and expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of degenerative disk disease. Our state-of-the-art facility provides advanced diagnostic imaging technology, non-surgical treatments, innovative spine surgeries, and rehabilitation services to help improve comfort, mobility, and quality-of-life for patients experiencing the effects of degenerative disk disease.

If you are suffering with chronic neck or back pain, or have been diagnosed with degenerative disk disease, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced orthopaedic surgeons who can help.

Causes & Symptoms of Degenerative Disk Disease

The natural aging process, daily wear-and-tear (mechanical stress and pressure), and an accumulation of injuries over time are often the most common causes of degenerative disk disease. As the disk’s center becomes less flexible, the protective shell of the disk, called the anulus fibrosus, weakens and may eventually lead to a herniated disk. Following a ruptured disk, the space between the vertebrae collapses, which can cause the vertebrae to shift and/or bone spurs to form (spinal stenosis). These physical changes can create varying degrees of pain and dysfunction throughout the spine and body. Degenerative disk disease can also be hereditary and has been linked to age-related hormonal changes.

While degenerative disk disease is one of the most common causes of back pain, not all individuals with degenerative disk disease are symptomatic. Since each individual’s anatomy is unique and degenerative disk disease can affect any area of the spine in different ways, the type and severity of symptoms experienced can vary widely. Some of the most common signs of degenerative disk disease can include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Radiating pain
  • Tingling
  • Weakness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Impaired mobility

Pain, tingling, and weakness can be experienced along the arms, buttocks, thighs, and legs. The location of the affected disk(s) and the amount of pressure being placed on the surrounding nerves determine the nature of the symptoms the patient experiences.

Diagnosis of Degenerative Disk Disease

To diagnose degenerative disk disease and other spinal conditions our orthopaedic surgeons perform thorough physical examinations, review medical history, and utilize advanced diagnostic imaging techniques. X-rays, MRIs, and other technology can provide the visual confirmation necessary to make an accurate diagnosis and develop and effective treatment plan.

Degenerative Disk Disease Treatment

The treatment plan your orthopaedic surgeon recommends will be customized to suit your individual diagnosis and needs. Treatment typically begins with administering non-surgical options, such as anti-inflammatories, injections, and physical therapy, to see if adequate symptomatic relief can be achieved. If these methods prove to be unsuccessful, your orthopaedic surgeon may recommend considering surgical techniques to repair the spine.

For more information about diagnosing and treating back pain, we invite you to contact Garden State Orthopaedics to schedule an appointment with one of our highly skilled orthopaedic specialists.