Most of us have suffered from lower back pain at one time or another. Lower back pain is often caused by degenerative disk disease. Degenerative disk disease usually affects adults age 30 to 60, and it occurs naturally as part of the aging process.
What Is Degenerative Disk Disease?
Degenerative disk disease is a condition wherein a vertebral disk is damaged. The damaged disk can cause chronic lower back pain and/or leg pain (sciatica) in the lumbar spine. A damaged vertebral disk can also cause chronic neck and/or arm pain in the cervical spine. Along with pain, a damaged or degenerated disk can cause numbness and weakness. Pain caused by a damaged disk can become chronic and last for years. The pain could also be periodic, coming and going but never really resolving. There are also people with degenerative disk disease who experience no pain whatsoever. For those who do experience pain, that pain can range from very mild to extremely severe.
What Causes Degenerative Disk Disease?
A disk can be damaged by an injury that involves twisting of the lower back. More often, it occurs naturally as part of the aging process. Given enough time, everyone experiences disk degeneration to one degree or another. Over time, disks wear out. As a result of injury or degeneration, the inner and/or outer areas of a disk tear. The tearing exposes nerves in the spine and irritates them, sometimes causing pain. Injured disks can herniate and pinch spinal nerves, thus causing the sharp pain in the legs known as sciatica. A degenerated disk can also cause instability in the surrounding vertebrae because it can no longer hold that vertebral segment together properly.
How Is Degenerative Disk Disease Treated?
Disks have no blood supply and few nerve endings. The lack of a blood supply prevents a disk from healing itself. In spite of the name, this condition is not necessarily degenerative, and it is not even technically a disease. Rather, the name applies to the progressive deterioration of the disk itself. Pain levels generally do not get worse over time. In fact, the pain can actually decrease over time. Dr. Spivak will initially treat pain associated with degenerative disk disease by prescribing physical therapy and/or chiropractic treatments. Other noninvasive treatments he may suggest include weight loss for patients who are overweight, stem cell therapy, and/or injections of steroids and local anesthetics.
Surgical Treatments For Degenerative Disk Disease
When the noninvasive treatments mentioned above are ineffective and pain is severe, Dr. Spivak may want to explore surgical options with you. A number of innovative surgical treatments for degenerative disk disease are available today. Two surgical interventions used to treat degenerative disk disease are endoscopic laser discectomy and endoscopic fusion. Dr. Spivak will discuss all surgical options with you and help you to decide whether a surgical intervention for degenerative disk disease would be right for you.
As a board-certified neurosurgeon and the president of Executive Spine Surgery in Hackettstown, NJ, Dr. Carl Spivak is internationally recognized for his commitment to minimally invasive spinal surgery and state-of-the-art endoscopic spinal techniques.