What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

degenerative disc disease - south florida ortho

The spinal structure consists of vertebral bones separated by discs to act as shock absorbers and prevent bone-to-bone contact. When the discs in the spine begin to deteriorate, the complex structure of the spine is weakened and other joints or nerves may be affected. Your doctor at South Florida Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine will provide both conservative and surgical treatment options to help treat degenerative disc disease.

A majority of patients experience significant pain relief following the diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

The disc in the spine consists of an outer wall of tissue that acts as a shock absorber and a jelly-like center, or nucleus, which allows for the twisting and bending of the spine. Over time, the outer cartilage in the disc may begin to tear or weaken, resulting in a collapse of the disc and the two vertebrae would be functioning without a cushion to prevent bone-to-bone rubbing. Without a stable disc, the spine becomes misaligned and, if left untreated, may result in deformities in the surrounding joints. Other potential spinal conditions include spinal stenosis, herniated disc, or bone overgrowth between joints.

Due to the variety of conditions that are caused by degenerative disc disease, the symptoms can be different depending on the patient’s medical history. Symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:

  • Numbness of the limbs
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain when twisting or bending
  • Tingling sensation in the arms or legs
  • Difficulty sitting down

What Are Treatment Options for Degenerative Disc Disease?

Your doctor will begin using nonsurgical treatment options such as anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy, to help relieve any pain. Conservative methods are helpful to create a healing environment in the spine and to prevent additional damage by strengthening the spine. If nonsurgical options are unsuccessful, there are a wide-range of potential surgical solutions.

A majority of treatments will be minimally invasive surgery to relieve the pain or pressure on the spinal cord. In some, rare cases a lumbar or cervical fusion will remove the damaged portion of the disc and fuse the two vertebrae together to create a stable bone in the spine. A herniated disc occurs when the jelly-like center pushes through the outer wall and applies pressure to the nerve root. By cutting away at the protruding nucleus, the nerve root can begin to heal.

Most patients report a successful return to their active lifestyle and significant pain relief following treatment. For more information about different conditions resulting from degenerative disc disease, follow the links below.

  • Herniated Disc – Vertebral discs are comprised of a strong outer layer and a jelly-like center to act as a shock absorber between vertebrae. When the outer layer begins to deteriorate, the center will be pushed out of this disc and place pressure on the surrounding nerve roots.
  • Lumbar Fusion – When degenerative disc disease completely erodes the disc, bone-to-bone rubbing can occur. To prevent further damage, the two vertebrae will be fused together to stabilize the spine.
  • Spinal Stenosis – This condition occurs when the area around the nerve root narrows and pressure is placed on the spinal cord. The pressure may be caused by a herniated disc.
  • Cervical Fusion – When the disc separating the vertebrae in the neck becomes severely damaged, the disc will be removed. The two vertebrae are then fused together to create one stable bone.
  • Discectomy/Microdiscectomy – These minimally invasive treatment options will access the damaged disc and remove any protruding tissue. In some cases, a bone graft or transplanted bone tissue will be used to help the disc heal.

Cervical Endoscopic Decompression – This procedure removes the protruding disc tissue that is placing pressure on the nerve root in the neck with a minimally invasive endoscopic camera. The protrusion is the result of a herniated disc.


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