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From Diagnosis to Recovery, CFRS is Here to Help

Although it's a normal part of the aging process, degenerative disc disease can cause painful symptoms. Fortunately, there are minimally invasive treatment options that help provide relief and keep you active.

Degenerative Disc

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is part of the natural process of growing older. As we age, our intervertebral discs lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock absorbing characteristics. The outer fibers that surround the disc, called the annulus fibrosis, become brittle and are more easily torn. At the same time, the soft gel-like center of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus, starts to dry out and shrink. The combination of damage to the intervertebral discs, the development of bone spurs and the gradual thickening of the ligaments that support the spine can all contribute to degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine.

To a certain degree, this process happens to everyone. However, not everyone who has degenerative changes in their lumbar spine has pain. Many people who have "normal" backs have MRIs that show disc herniations, degenerative changes, and narrowed spinal canals. Every patient is different, and it is important to realize that not everyone develops symptoms as a result of degenerative disc disease. 


When degenerative disc disease becomes painful or symptomatic, it can cause several different symptoms due to the compression of the nerve roots. Depending on where your degenerative disc is located, it could cause:

  • Back pain
  • Radiating leg pain
  • Neck pain
  • Radiating arm pain

These symptoms are caused by the fact that worn out discs are a source of pain because they do not function as well as they once did, and as they shrink, the space available for the nerve roots also shrinks. As the discs between the intervertebral bodies start to wear out, the entire lumbar spine becomes less flexible. The result can be back pain and stiffness, especially towards the end of the day.

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The diagnosis of degenerative disc disease begins with a complete physical examination.

Your doctor will examine your back for flexibility, range of motion, and the presence of certain signs that suggest your nerve roots are being affected by degenerative changes in your back.

This often involves testing the strength of your muscles and your reflexes to make sure that they are still working normally. You will often be asked to fill out a diagram that asks you where your symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling and weakness are occurring.

A series of x-rays is also usually ordered for a patient with back pain. If degenerative disc disease is present, the x-rays will often show a narrowing of the spaces between the vertebral bodies, which indicates the disc has become very thin or has collapsed. Bone spurs also can form around the edges of the vertebral bodies and also around the edges of the facet joints in the spine. These bone spurs can be seen on an x-ray, and are also called osteophytes. As the disc collapses and bone spurs form, the space available for the nerve roots starts to shrink. The nerve roots exit the spinal canal through a bony tunnel called the neural foramen, and it is at this point that the nerve roots are especially vulnerable to compression.

In many situations, doctors will order a MRI or a CT scan (CAT scan) to evaluate the degenerative changes in the lumbar spine more completely.

A MRI is very useful for determining where disc herniations have occurred and where the nerve roots are being compressed.

A CT scan is often used to evaluate the bony anatomy in the spine, which can show how much space is available for the nerve roots and within the neural foramina and spinal canal.

Treatment Options

Your doctor will discuss with you the treatment options appropriate for your diagnosis. For most people who do not have evidence of nerve root compression with muscle weakness, conservative, non-surgical therapies, such as medication, rest, exercise and physical therapy, are typically recommended. Surgery is offered only after conservative treatment has have failed to adequately relieve the symptoms of pain, numbness and weakness over a significant period of time. The benefits of spine surgery, however, must be weighed against the risks. Your surgeon will be able to discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with you, and the likely results of operative versus non-operative treatment.

Degenerative Disc Specialist

Degenerative disc disease is a wear-and-tear problem that often causes back pain as you get older. If you're experiencing symptoms of a degenerative disc, spinal surgeons Steve Paragioudakis, MD, and Marc Menkowitz, MD at the Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine, can help. They specialize in performing procedures like microdiscectomy and artificial disc replacement, often using minimally invasive and robotic techniques. You can benefit from their expertise by calling the Shrewsbury, Toms River, or Edison, New Jersey, office to find out more or book an appointment online today.

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Degenerative Disc Q & A

What symptoms does degenerative disc disease cause?

How is degenerative disc disease treated?

What are the surgical options for degenerative disc disease?

What symptoms does degenerative disc disease cause?

You might have degenerative disc disease and not know it because many people don't experience symptoms. The problems usually arise when the condition leads to nerve irritation or compression. You could have back pain that radiates into your legs if you have degenerative disc disease in your lumbar spine. Or you may have neck pain that radiates into your arms if the condition is affecting your cervical spine. You may also experience a loss of flexibility in your spine, which leaves you with chronic backache and persistent stiffness.

How is degenerative disc disease treated?

The Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine team uses non-invasive approaches such as medication, activity modification, and physical therapies. These methods work well for most patients, although some might require further interventions such as:

  • Epidural steroid injections
  • IDET (intradiscal electrothermal therapy)
  • Percutaneous disc nucleoplasty
  • Spinal cord stimulation

If your degenerative disc disease continues to cause unmanageable pain despite following a comprehensive treatment plan for some months, you might want to look at surgical alternatives.

What are the surgical options for degenerative disc disease?

The Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine team may treat degenerative disc disease with:

  • Microdiscectomy
  • Artificial disc replacement
  • Endoscopic decompression
  • Dekompressor discectomy
  • Spinal fusion
  • Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF)

The surgery that's best for you depends on which discs need treatment and factors like your age and general health. To get relief from degenerative disc disease symptoms, call Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine, or book an appointment online today.

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