What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)?
Dr. Greg Khounganian, Spine Surgeon January 20, 2023
A diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) can be a little bit misleading, in that this spinal condition is not a “disease” in the way most men and women think about disease. Instead, Degenerative Disc Disease is a condition occurring in the spine, wherein the intervertebral discs in the spine become damaged, causing pain in your back and spine.
Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative Disc Disease is most often caused by aging. As we age, our discs, which are approximately 80% water at birth, dry out. Because a primary function of our discs is to act as shock absorbers between the bones of the spine, discs which have dried out do not provide the same degree of cushion-like support as they did when we were younger. Unfortunately, although may organs and tissues in the body have incredible regenerative capabilities (thanks to a healthy blood supply), discs don't contain a very high blood supply, so they are not able to repair themselves. This means that without some form of treatment, it is not likely that you will be able to reduce pain caused by Degenerative Disc Disease.
A second aging related cause of Degenerative Disc Disease, results from small tearing which occurs over time as we age, frequently caused by regular daily activities, or exercise regimens. This too, is a normal result of aging, and is very common. In fact, studies have shown that the majority of men and women will have some degree of degeneration by age 60. Yet for many women and men, this naturally occurring degeneration is gradual and minor so it doesn't result in pain. Therefore, many individuals are unaware that they have the condition.
It is important to note however, that Degenerative Disc Disease doesn't only affect older individuals, and it isn't only caused by aging. Younger people may develop this painful spine condition as the result of an injury, an auto accident, sports injury, or other types of trauma.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
Those who are ultimately diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease typically discover the condition after an examination with a Spine Specialist, due to pain. Pain caused by Degenerative Disc Disease may arise in many forms. Some individuals will experience pain that is worse when sitting versus standing. Others may notice that the pain subsides while walking or running. Still others may experience sharp pain for a few days, which then goes away, only to return again. Others who learn that they have Degenerative Disc Disease may experience symptoms of numbness, tingling, or weakness in the extremities, such as your legs, or feet.
Diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease will require a physical examination, including a full report of the symptoms you're experiencing, along with imaging tests such as an MRI, CT scan or discogram to confirm your diagnosis.
Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease in Los Angeles
Conservative, non-surgical treatment to reduce pain caused by Degenerative Disc Disease, will always be considered first by Dr. Greg S. Khounganian. Non-invasive treatments may include lifestyle changes including losing weight or specialized exercises. Other potential nonsurgical treatment options may include physical therapy, and/or occupational therapy. Some individuals may also get pain relief through back braces, or alternative treatments including acupuncture. Minimally invasive treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease such as steroid injections combined with an anesthetic (known as facet injections or trigger point injections) may also provide pain relief.
Surgical treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease will always be a last resort. However, for some men individuals, surgery may be the only option. In these cases, the type of surgery you'll need will be determined by Dr. Greg S. Khounganian. Surgeries may include an artificial disc replacement, in which the damaged disc is removed and replaced entirely. Other surgical treatments include spinal fusion surgery, wherein adjacent vertebrae are grafted together. Decompression surgery may also be considered, in order to remove part of the joint of the disc, which is causing pain by putting pressure on nerves.
If you're dealing with an onset of back or spine pain, do not be alarmed. Most adults will experience back or spine pain at some time. However, if your pain does not subside, it's important to be seen by an expert Minimally Invasive Spine Specialist to begin treatment sooner, rather than later, to prevent the small problems from becoming larger, or more painful problems in the future.
Contact Dr. Greg S. Khounganian's friendly staff today to schedule a consultation. We can be reached at 818.343.4430