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Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a condition caused by wear and tear on a spinal disc in the lower back and neck. It often causes back pain with weakness, numbness and pain in the arms or legs.

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease – also known as DDD – happens when the spinal discs between your bones (vertebrae) age over time, so they lose their flexibility and ability to cushion your spine.

Despite its name, degenerative disc disease is not a disease, but a condition that develops with age.

It can affect any part of the spine but often develops in the parts of the spine you use the most, including the neck and lower back.

Without the cushioning effect of the disc, a persistent pain occurs in the back, or even episodes of sharp pain lasting a few days to a few weeks.

What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?

Symptoms of degenerative disc disease may include:

  • Increased pain when moving, lifting or sitting
  • Feeling as though your spine isn’t supporting you
  • Sharp pain in the lower back, shoulder, arm or hand or the hips, buttocks or leg
  • Pain when standing for a long time – muscle spasms
  • Weakness may mean damage to the nerves near your spine
  • Pain improves when changing positions

What causes degenerative disc disease?

Your spinal discs are made up of a soft inner core and a sturdy outer wall. The discs change in ways that may cause degenerative disc disease, including:

Dry out – as you age, the discs in your spine lose water, losing padding between your vertebrae

Cracks – daily movement and previous injuries over the years can cause tiny tears near the nerves

How is degenerative disc disease diagnosed?

There are many ways your doctor can diagnose degenerative disc disease, including:

  • Physical and subjective examination: you doctor will first examine your spine and ask what type of pain you’ve been experiencing
  • MRI imaging tests: to determine if there is a bulging or worn disc in your spine. It can make a formal diagnosis of DDD in the neck or lower back and aid planning corrective surgery.

How is degenerative disc disease treated?

Your doctor will recommend some (or all) of the following:

  • Occupational therapy or physical therapy (this usually means you meet with a physical therapist to learn strengthening exercises and ways to manage pain)
  • Aquatic therapy to help ease discomfort and relax your body while you exercise
  • A special diet to help lose weight
  • Advice on positions such as kneeling or reclining to help relieve symptoms
  • A corset or brace for back support

If the above measures don’t work, your doctor might recommend the following:

  • Facet joint injections and a local anesthetic injected into your joints next to the damaged disc (in some cases), providing pain relief
  • Facet rhizotomy(your doctor uses a radiofrequency current to deaden the nerves around the facet joint, providing pain relief)
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs and medications
  • Steroid injections and muscle relaxers (in some cases)

If the above treatments don’t work, depending on your symptoms you might need surgery. You will be advised on the surgery that is best for you.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

Find your specialist in degenerative disc disease at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you are experiencing back pain and are concerned about degenerative disc disease, you can receive an expert opinion from one of the UK’s leading orthopaedic specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Mr Pavlos Panteliadis  ›
Special interests include:
Spinal surgery (+ 12) more
Miss Vivian A. Elwell  ›
Special interests include:
Spinal surgery (+ 23) more

Need some help?
Call 020 7467 4344

Our team is available to take your call Mon - Fri - 8am – 6pm

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