The pain may start after a
major injury (such as from a car accident), a minor injury (such as a fall from
a low height), or a normal motion (such as bending over to pick something up).
It may also start gradually for no known reason and get worse over time.
In some cases, you may have
numbness or tingling in your leg or arm.
How is degenerative disc disease diagnosed?
Degenerative disc disease is diagnosed with a medical history and
physical exam. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, injuries or
illnesses, any previous treatment, and habits and activities that may be
causing pain in the neck, arms, back, buttock, or leg. During the physical
exam, he or she will:
- Check the affected area's range of motion and
for pain caused by movement.
- Look for areas of tenderness and any
nerve-related changes, such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected
area, or changes in
- Check for other conditions, such
as fractures, tumors, and infection.
If your examination reveals no signs of a serious
imaging tests, such as an
X-ray, are unlikely to help the diagnosis. Imaging
tests may be considered when your symptoms develop after an injury, nerve
damage is suspected, or your medical history suggests conditions that could
affect your spine, such as bone disease, tumors, or infection.
How is it treated?
To relieve pain, put ice or
heat (whichever feels better) on the affected area and use
acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including
aspirin (such as Bayer), ibuprofen (such as Advil), or naproxen (such as
Aleve). Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20
because of the risk of
Reye syndrome. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) also
can help relieve pain. Your doctor can prescribe stronger medicines if
Further treatment depends on whether the damaged disc
has resulted in other conditions, such as osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or
spinal stenosis. Physical therapy and exercises for strengthening and
stretching the back are often recommended, and in some cases surgery may be
recommended. Surgery for degenerative disc disease usually involves removing
the damaged disc. In some cases, the bone is then permanently joined (fused) to
protect the spinal cord. In rare cases, an artificial disc may be used to replace
the disc that is removed.