Referring to the wear and tear on spinal discs that often occurs with age, degenerative disc disease progresses over time. More of a set of symptoms than an actual “disease,” DDD is a condition that can affect one person entirely different from how it affects someone else as it advances.
Nearly everyone is going to experience normal wear of the discs that support the spine with age. While it can spread, it’s not like a virus that “infects” other discs. The progression of DDD is slow, with possible symptoms including:
The collagen, or protein, that makes up discs changes over time, sometimes to the point where the inner portion of the disc pushes through the outside portion. The result is a herniated disc that can press on an adjacent nerve and cause pain. Discs can also dehydrate with age to the point where there’s a noticeable lack of cushioning, which can cause pain aggregated by movement.
When disc height changes due to dehydration or wear, added pressure can be placed on the joints of the spine, known as the facet joints. Cartilage that normally protects these joints can also wear away over time and result in bone spurs. These bony overgrowths, called osteophytes, are the body’s way of compensating for the loss of cartilage. The problem is that bone spurs sometimes press against nerves.
The spread of degenerative disc disease is akin to a building that becomes weak at one floor. The lack of support at one level of the spine places added pressure on subsequent discs, resulting in a domino effect.
Some people respond well to physical therapy for DDD while others experience relief from a combination of remedies ranging from drug therapy to acupuncture. Surgery can include lumbar artificial disc replacement or an anterior lumbar interbody fusion performed from the front of the body.
For more information or to schedule and in-person consultation with a renowned Los Angeles spinal surgeon, reach out to Dr. Bae at The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration and take the first step toward a pain-free life.