Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a spinal condition that affects the intervertebral discs
The intervertebral discsare the cushioning structures located between the vertebrae in the spine. Over time, the discs can lose their water content, become thinner, and develop small tears or cracks in the outer layer (annulus fibrosus).
“This can lead to a range of symptoms, including pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in the affected area,” explains Orthopedic Surgeon Rolando Garcia, M.D.
The exact cause of DDD is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to the natural aging process and wear and tear on the discs over time. Factors such as genetics, smoking, and obesity may also increase the risk of developing DDD.
Symptoms of DDD can vary depending on the location and severity of the condition.
Common symptoms include back pain, stiffness, and reduced flexibility. In some cases, the condition can lead to nerve compression and cause pain or numbness in the legs or arms. Severe cases of DDD may require surgical intervention, such as a discectomy or spinal fusion, to alleviate symptoms.
Treatment for DDD typically involves a combination of conservative measures such as physical therapy, pain management, and lifestyle changes (such as exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation).
In some cases, medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, or corticosteroids may be used to manage symptoms. It is important to work with a medical professional to develop a comprehensive treatment plan based on your specific needs and symptoms.
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What cases of DDD may require surgical intervention?
Surgical intervention for degenerative disc disease (DDD) is typically reserved for cases where conservative treatments have been ineffective, and the symptoms are severe and significantly affecting the patient’s quality of life. In general, surgery is considered when the condition has led to nerve compression, and symptoms such as weakness, numbness, or difficulty with bladder or bowel control are present. Some examples of when surgery may be considered for DDD include:
- Herniated Disc: When a disc herniates, the inner material (nucleus pulposus) can leak out and press on the nerves in the spinal cord. If this compression is severe and causing significant symptoms, a discectomy may be performed to remove the herniated portion of the disc and relieve the pressure on the nerves.
- Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis is a condition where the spinal canal becomes narrow, putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. Surgery may be considered if the narrowing is severe and causing significant symptoms such as pain, weakness, or numbness.
- Spondylolisthesis: This is a condition where one vertebra slips forward over the vertebra below it, causing compression of the spinal cord or nerves. Surgery may be recommended if the slippage is severe and causing significant symptoms.
The type of surgery for DDD will depend on the location and severity of the condition. The most common surgical procedures for DDD include discectomy, spinal fusion, or artificial disc replacement. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with a medical professional and consider all non-surgical treatment options before making a decision.