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Causes and Risk Factors

Degenerative disc disease is primarily caused by the natural aging process. As people age, their spinal discs lose hydration and become less flexible, which may lead to tears in the annulus and reduce the effectiveness of the nucleus as a cushion. While degenerative disc disease is primarily related to age, other risk factors can increase a person’s likelihood of developing the condition. Other contributing factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition to spine problems
  • Excessive strain on the spine from activities or obesity
  • Traumatic injuries that cause swelling, soreness, and instability in the spine
  • Repetitive motions that put pressure on certain spinal discs
  • Smoking, which can limit the body’s ability to deliver nutrients to the discs


The symptoms of DDD vary widely and depend on the severity and location of the disc degeneration. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it is essential to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan:

  • Pain in the back, legs, thighs, and buttocks that may worsen with standing
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited range of motion

Diagnostic Process

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is diagnosed through a combined approach of medical evaluation and imaging. Initially, a thorough medical history and physical examination are conducted to assess pain, spinal alignment, and nerve function. This is followed by imaging tests like X-rays and MRI, which are crucial for visualizing spinal bone structure, disc integrity, and soft tissue condition.

Occasionally, more specific tests such as discography or nerve conduction studies may be employed for detailed assessment. The diagnosis is a careful process, often involving the exclusion of other conditions with similar symptoms.

Treatment Options

Conservative Care

Conservative treatment is the first line of intervention for DDD and includes non-invasive methods to manage pain and improve mobility. These may include:

  • Physical Therapy: Specific exercises can help restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the spine.
  • Pain Medication: Over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers can alleviate discomfort and make physical therapy more manageable.
  • Hot/Cold Therapy: Alternating between hot and cold compresses can help ease pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Avoiding activities that exacerbate symptoms, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking can slow down the progression of DDD.
  • Spinal Injections: For severe pain, injections of steroids or anesthetic agents may provide relief for a few months.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery for DDD at Excel Health is considered only when conservative treatments fail to provide sufficient relief, and the patient’s daily life is significantly impacted. Surgical options aim to alleviate pain and restore spine stability and may include procedures like spinal fusion or disc replacement. Each surgical decision is made carefully, considering the patient’s overall health and lifestyle, ensuring the best possible outcomes.

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