Degenerated Disc Disease

What is it?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is part of the natural process of growing older. As we age, our intervertebral discs lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock absorbing characteristics. The outer fibers that surround the disc, called the annulus fibrosis, become brittle and are more easily torn. At the same time, the soft gel-like center of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus, starts to dry out and shrink. The combination of damage to the intervertebral discs, the development of bone spurs and the gradual thickening of the ligaments that support the spine can all contribute to degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine.

Every patient is different, and it is important to realize that not everyone develops symptoms as a result of degenerative disc disease. However, many patients with DDD experience pain because the disc does not function as well as it once did, and as it shrinks, the space available for the nerve roots also shrinks. As the discs between the intervertebral bodies start to wear out, the entire lumbar spine becomes less flexible. The result can be back pain and stiffness, especially towards the end of the day. It is also common to experience radiating arm or leg pain secondary to nerve root compression in the degenerated level of the spine.

When is surgery indicated for DDD?

Conservative, non-surgical therapies, such as medication, rest, exercise and physical therapy, are typically recommended first-line for degenerative disc disease. Also, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding strenuous heavy lifting and smoking cessation are strongly advised in DDD patients.

Surgery is offered only after conservative treatment has  failed to adequately relieve the symptoms of pain, numbness and or weakness over a significant period of time.

Some surgical options may include:

  • Disc replacement / Arthroplasty
  • Dynamic Spinal Stabilization
  • Spinal Fusion