What are the symptoms?
Degenerative disc disease
may result in back or neck pain, but this varies from person to person. Many
people have no pain, while others with the same amount of disc damage have
severe pain that limits their activities. Where the pain occurs depends on the
location of the affected disc. An affected disc in the neck area may result in
neck or arm pain, while an affected disc in the lower back may result in pain
in the back, buttock, or leg. The pain often gets worse with movements such as
bending over, reaching up, or twisting.
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 exam 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, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Your doctor can prescribe stronger medicines if
If you develop health problems such as osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or
spinal stenosis, you may need other treatments. These include physical therapy and exercises for strengthening and stretching the back. In some cases, surgery may be recommended. Surgery 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.