Degenerative disc disease is referred to as gradual degeneration of the disc between the vertebrae. It is a natural process of aging.
As the age increases, the discs begin to lose fluid. Loss of fluid in the discs decreases the ability to act as shock absorber and thus causing loss of flexibility. The outer ring of the disc called the annulus fibrosis, become weak and is more likely to develop tears. Also, at the same time the nucleus pulposus, the central softer portion of the disc becomes dehydrated and shrink. As a result, the central softer portion of the disc is pushed out through the tears in the annulus and causes the disc to bulge, rupture or break.
Symptoms varies from person to person. Some people may have no pain while others may experience severe pain. Depending upon the location of the affected disc the condition may cause:
- Neck or arm pain
- Back pain
- Numbness or tingling in the legs
- Pain in the thighs and buttocks
The pain is aggravated by movements such as bending, lifting, or twisting.
The goal of the treatment is to relieve pain and improve the function. Treatment options include conservative and surgical treatment:
Conservative treatment - Conservative treatment such as rest, medications, exercise and physical therapy, are recommended for those patients with no evidence of nerve root compression or muscle weakness.
Surgical treatment - Surgery may be recommended only after conservative treatment has failed to effectively relieve the symptoms of pain, numbness and weakness over a substantial period of time. Decompression of the spinal cord accompanied by a discectomy, or an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion will be performed to remove the affected disc and fuse the associated vertebrae in order to stabilize the spine in that area.