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Caring for Your Spine: Understanding Degenerative Disc Disease

Caring your spine

A disorder known as degenerative disc disease (DDD) causes one or more of the back discs to weaken. Technically speaking, degenerative disc disease is not a disease, despite its name. It is a gradual ailment brought on by damage or general wear and tear over time.

The spaces between your spine’s vertebrae are home to the discs. They perform the roles of shock absorbers and cushions. Discs assist you in standing upright. Additionally, they facilitate routine activities like bending over and twisting around.

With time, DDD may get worse. It may produce moderate to severe discomfort that gets in the way of your daily activities.

What Are the Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?

Some of the most common symptoms of DDD include pain that:

  • comes and goes in as little as a few days and up to several months
  • can be worse from sitting
  • worsens after twisting or bending
  • extends from neck to arms
  • might extend to the legs and buttocks
  • primarily affects the lower back

People with DDD might experience less pain after walking and exercise. DDD can also cause weakened leg muscles, as well as numbness in your arms or legs.

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What Are the Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease?

Spinal discs wear down as a normal part of ageing. Especially after age 40, most people experience some disc degeneration. However, not everyone experiences pain.

You might have pain if your spinal discs:

  • Tear or crack: Minor injuries can lead to small cracks in your spinal discs. These tears are often near nerves. Tears can be painful, even when they are minor. If the outer wall of your spinal disc cracks open, your disc may bulge out of place, known as a herniated disc, which may compress a spinal nerve.
  • Dry out: Your discs have a soft core that mostly contains water. As you get older, that core naturally loses some water. As a result, discs get thinner and don’t provide as much shock absorption as they used to.

How is Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosed?

To diagnose degenerative disc disease, your healthcare provider may start by asking you about your symptoms. Questions may include:

  • When does the pain start?
  • Where do you feel pain?
  • What activities cause the most pain?
  • What activities decrease the pain?
  • Did you have an injury or accident that led to pain?
  • Do you have other symptoms, such as tingling or numbness?
  • How far can you walk?

Your healthcare provider may use imaging scans such as X-ray, CT or MRI. These tests can show your healthcare provider the state and alignment of your discs. Your provider may also conduct a physical exam to check your:

  • Strength: Muscle weakness or shrinking (atrophy) could mean you have nerve damage or degenerated discs.
  • Pain levels: Your provider may touch or press on specific areas of your back to measure your pain levels.
  • Nerve function: Your provider may use a reflex hammer to check your reactions. Poor or no reaction could mean you have damaged or compressed nerves.

What is the Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease?

Usually, your healthcare provider will recommend noninvasive treatment options first. Your treatment may include:

Radiofrequency Neurotomy:

Using electric currents to burn sensory nerves and prevent pain signals from reaching your brain.

Steroid Injections:

Injecting medicine near your spinal nerves, disc or joints to reduce inflammation and pain.


Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxers or steroids.

Physical Therapy:

Participating in strengthening and stretching exercises with a trained healthcare provider.

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Home Remedies

Some people find pain relief through at-home remedies. At-home treatments may decrease pain for a short time. However, they are not a long-term treatment for severely degenerated discs. You may try:

  • Stretching: Gentle yoga and stretching throughout the day may improve posture and relieve tension.
  • Hot and cold therapy: Alternating ice packs and heating pads every 10 to 15 minutes up to three to four times per day may reduce soreness and inflammation.
  • Exercise: Low-impact activity such as walking or swimming can strengthen back muscles and relieve some pain.

Surgical Options

Many patients do not need surgery for degenerative disc disease. But if you have tried multiple nonsurgical treatments and have persistent pain and/or weakness, surgery may be a good option.

Or your surgeon may use one of a few types of spinal decompression surgery:

  • Spinal fusion: During this procedure, your surgeon connects two or more vertebrae to improve stability.
  • Osteophyte removal: Removing bone spurs (osteophytes).
  • Laminectomy: Taking out a small portion of bone from your lower spine (lamina).
  • Foraminotomy: Expanding the opening for your nerve roots by removing tissue and bone.
  • discectomy: Removing part of a spinal disc to relieve pressure on your nerves.

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Understanding degenerative disc disease is crucial for timely intervention. Ignoring it may lead to worsening pain, reduced mobility, nerve damage, and diminished quality of life. Early diagnosis enhances treatment options. It is always advisable to seek medical help from an experienced orthopaedist.. Timely care and help can ensure an appropriate diagnosis and treatment of your condition. 

At the CK Birla Hospital, we ensure patients get holistic medical support which includes treatment in a compassionate environment. This patient-centric approach not only helps patients heal better but also ensures they are aware of the preventive measures as well. In case you need to consult an orthopaedist, reach out to us, or book a direct appointment at the CK Birla Hospital. (Booking Link).


What Lifestyle Factors Contribute to Degenerative Disc Disease?

Lifestyle factors contributing to degenerative disc disease include ageing, smoking, poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, and improper lifting techniques. These factors accelerate disc degeneration, impacting spinal health over time.

Can Degenerative Disc Disease Occur in Young Adults?

Yes, degenerative disc disease can occur in young adults, especially if they have risk factors such as genetic predisposition, trauma, or engage in activities that stress the spine.

When is Surgery Recommended for Degenerative Disc Disease?

Surgery for degenerative disc disease is considered when conservative treatments fail to provide relief, and symptoms severely impact daily life. Surgical options include discectomy, spinal fusion, or disc replacement.

Can Degenerative Disc Disease Be Prevented?

While degenerative disc disease is a natural part of ageing, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, proper nutrition, and avoiding smoking can help reduce the risk and delay its onset.

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