Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease

As you get older, the structures that make up your spine change, especially around the intervertebral discs. Gradually they can become damaged or prematurely deteriorate, losing their ability to function efficiently as part of the spinal joint. If problems progress, you may struggle with severe back pain that requires the intervention of a trained orthopedic surgeon.

At Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona, our goal is to provide outstanding and compassionate care to those struggling with degenerative disc disease. Our doctors are leaders in spinal care and can provide a wide range of minimally invasive treatment options to help you manage pain and strengthen your back.

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What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is an often misunderstood condition. In fact, it’s not actually a disease. Degenerated discs are part of the normal spinal aging process, and most adults have some form of disc degeneration by the time they are 40 years old. This age-related spinal condition can cause many intervertebral disc changes, including a loss of cushioning, herniation and fragmentation.

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What are Spinal Discs?

The spine is composed of 33 vertebrae bones. To prevent them from grinding together, soft, compressible discs are found between each bone. As you age, spinal discs lose moisture content and can become stiff, thin and brittle.

Tiny cracks to the tough, cartilage-like exterior of the disc can cause the gel-like interior to bulge or rupture, also called a herniated disc. This can put additional pressure on nerves, leading to chronic back, neck, leg or arm pain.

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

The main cause of degenerative disc disease is disc deterioration due to repetitive motion, aging or trauma to the spine. Once degeneration begins, the outer structure of the discs, called the annulus fibrosis, may tear. This exposes the interior of the disc that has the gel-like texture, the nucleus pulposus.

There are small micro nerve fibers that are located in the disc’s outer annulus fibrosis. As fluid leaks out through the tears, it can irritate the nerve fibers, resulting in inflammation and extremely painful symptoms in the low back.

In addition, the fluid leaking through the disc tear can irritate the adjacent exiting spinal nerve or sometimes called the sciatic nerve, sending pain into the buttocks and down the leg.

Those who smoke, are overweight or perform heavy physical labor may be more prone to experience degenerative disc disease.

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Detailed drawings of the spine and other bone areas of the human body.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease most often impacts the lumbar spinal region or lower back. However, the condition can also affect the cervical spine, or neck region, and other parts of the spine. The part of the spine that is damaged will impact where you experience pain.

There are a variety of symptoms that could indicate degenerative disc disease, including:

  • Lower back pain
  • Sciatic pain that travels into the buttocks, thighs and sometimes down the leg past the knees
  • into the feet
  • Lower back spasms
  • Numbness or tightness in the lower back
  • Numbness or tingling in your legs or arms
  • Weakness in your arms or legs, causing a weak grip or your legs to buckle
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Nonsurgical Treatment Options for Degenerative Disc Disease in AZ

At DISC, our doctors specialize in a full range of treatment options for degenerative disc disease. Rather than helping you manage symptoms, our goal is to diagnose and treat the source of your pain and prevent it from returning. DISC surgeons always recommend the least invasive options based on the diagnosis and identified pain generator.

The recommendation could include non-surgical treatments like:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers
  • Heat or cold therapy
  • Physical therapy exercises
  • Therapeutic pain injections
Older man pressing against his back from pain

Surgical Treatment Options

If non-surgical treatment is not providing you with the relief you need, and you are still experiencing painful symptoms from degenerative disc disease, your disc surgeon may recommend a least invasive endoscopic spine surgery or a minimally invasive spine surgery. We are leaders in a variety of least invasive techniques and will walk you through the process to ensure you fully understand your options and surgical treatment plan.

We are innovators in endoscopic spine surgery using a minimally invasive surgical technique that utilizes Selective Endoscopic Discectomy™ (SED™) instrumentation. This allows our surgeons to address the damage caused by degenerative disc disease through a small “keyhole” incision, less than 1/4 inch in size.

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DISC Also Offers the Following Surgical Options for Degenerative Disc Disease:

  • Endoscopic Rhizotomy (Low Back)
  • Endoscopic discectomy/annuloplasty (Low Back)
  • Intracept/Relievant
  • Hemilaminotomy
  • Coflex
  • Artificial disc replacement (Neck and select Low Back)
  • Minimally invasive spinal fusion
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Dr Abrams explaining spine x-ray Dr. Abrams laughing

Contact Our Expert Doctors Who Treat Degenerative Disc Disease in AZ

If you are experiencing chronic back pain, you may have degenerative disc disease and an accompanying disorder such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. You don’t have to continue struggling with these painful symptoms on your own. The doctors at DISC want to restore your lifestyle so you can enjoy life again.

Contact us today to schedule your appointment with one of our highly skilled and compassionate spine doctors. We have centers located in and throughout the Phoenix, AZ area. We would be happy to walk you through your treatment options and find ones that best suit your unique needs.


Our spine health blog features up-to-date spine education and expert spine tips from our spine specialists here at DISC.

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