Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition that results in intervertebral disc deterioration. As a disc deteriorates, it presses on the spinal nerves, which causes radiating pain down a leg or arm.
Intervertebral discs lie between the vertebrae, which are the spinal bones. These cushioning discs are quarter-sized, and the center (nucleus pulposus) is filled with a watery, gel-like substance. The center portion should contain around 80% water, but with DDD, the water content decreases.
In America, low back pain is a common musculoskeletal problem, and it is the third most frequently reported symptom. Around 20% of all physician visits are related to back pain. In a recent study involving almost 1,000 participants, researchers found that the prevalence of DDD in men under 50 was 71%, and for women, it was 77% in that age group. For men and women over the age of 5 years, DDD affects 90% of people.
When discs lose water content, they become less flexible and shorter. Once discs are injured, the spine cannot tolerate stress, which often leads to other problems. Normally, discs act as a cushion between the vertebrae, but with DDD, the vertebra bony prominences and bone spurs press on nerves and cause pain. DDD also is common along with spondylolisthesis, where bone spurs and vertebral alignment cause narrowing of the spinal cord and nerve compression.
For many people, degenerative disc disease does not cause any symptoms. However, the most common symptom associated with DDD is pain, which can gradually increase over time. The pain often radiates (shoots) down an arm or leg, which depends on the location of the DDD. Other symptoms include arm/leg numbness, tingling, and weakness, as well as difficulty sleeping.
The doctor can diagnose degenerative disc disease by performing a physical examination and with diagnostic imaging tests. X-rays are used to show bone deterioration, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan will show damage to the discs and soft tissues.
Treatment of degenerative disc disease includes:
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