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Common Degenerative Disc Questions?

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease isn't really a disease—it's the normal wear and tear process of aging on your spine. Unfortunately, as we age, our intervertebral discs (pillow-like pads between the bones in your spine) lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock-absorbing characteristics. When this happens, the discs change from a supple, flexible state that allows fluid movement, to a stiff and rigid state that restricts your movement.

What causes degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is usually the result of aging, so you're more likely to have it if you're over 50. However, younger people can have symptoms of DDD as well. Injuries can also start the degenerative process in your intervertebral discs.

The degenerative process causes your discs to lose their ability to cushion your movements. Gradually, the collagen (protein) structure of the outer portion of your disc—the annulus fibrosus—weakens. The degenerative process also affects the water content in your discs, and the water content is crucial to maintaining movement. With DDD, the water-attracting molecules in your discs decrease, making your discs become more stiff and rigid.

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What are some non-surgical ways to deal with degenerative disc disease?

To help deal with pain from degenerative disc disease, you can try:

  • bed rest (just a few days)
  • restricting your activities that increase the pain
  • light exercise (walking, swimming, etc.) as recommended by your doctor
  • over-the-counter medications
  • prescription medications


Will I need surgery?

Although most degenerative disc disease patients respond well to non-surgical treatments, some patients do need surgery. Surgery should be considered only after you've tried several months of non-surgical treatment. You surgeon will recommend the best kind of surgery for you. Here are some common kinds of surgery used for patients with DDD:

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