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Degenerative disc disease

Degeneration of the discs between the vertebrae of the spine is inevitable– it’s part of the aging process. But when this normal breakdown causes pain and other symptoms, it is known as degenerative disc disease.


What causes degenerative disc disease?


Spinal discs are composed of a fibrous outer layer filled with a jellylike nucleus. When we are born, our discs are about 80% water, and they provide effective cushioning between our vertebrae as we go about our daily activities.

As we age, the discs start to dehydrate and don’t absorb shock as well. Participation in sports, spinal injuries, and even normal daily activities over time can also cause small tears to form in the outer layer of the disc. Sometimes the material making up the nucleus of the disc seeps out.

Symptoms of degenerative disc disease


Although everyone experiences some amount of disc degeneration as they age, not everyone will have symptoms. A person is said to have degenerative disc disease if they experience some of the following symptoms due to breakdown of spinal discs:

  • Pain that worsens when sitting, bending, lifting or twisting
  • Pain that improves when walking or running
  • Pain that improves when lying down or changing positions often
  • Periods of pain that come and go. Can range from nagging to disabling.
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Weakness in the leg or foot drop (difficulty lifting the front part of the foot)


Treatment for degenerative disc disease



In many cases degenerative disc disease can be successfully treated without surgery. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications, chiropractic, steroid injections, back braces, electrical stimulation and heat or ice therapy can all help ease symptoms.

Physical therapy focuses on strengthening certain muscles that will stabilize the spine and allow the disc to heal. Certain lifestyle modifications, such as losing weight, quitting smoking and adjusting your posture can also reduce stress on the damaged disc and slow further degradation.

If more conservative efforts don’t bring relief, Dr. Baig may recommend one of two surgical options. During disc replacement surgery, he will remove the damaged disc and replace it with an artificial disc. Alternatively, Dr. Baig may perform a discectomy (disc removal) with spinal fusion to provide strength and stability to the spine.

Dr. Baig is skilled and experienced in several forms of disc replacement and spinal fusion surgery, including the less invasive lateral access spinal fusion surgery. Dr. Baig will only recommend surgery if he is confident it will bring relief.