Degenerative Disc Disease | DrBurke

Definition of Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is the most common type of arthritis worldwide. It is mainly a condition of the backbone. Essentially, degenerative disc disease is a description of the pathologic changes occurring in the structures of the vertebral column (backbone) – the vertebral disc.  The vertebral column is made up of 5 different sections: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and the coccygeus. The most common location for arthritis in degenerative disc disease is the cervical and the lumbar sections.

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a wear and tear type of arthritis. Factors that cause arthritis in degenerative disc disease are either precursors or factors that escalate the cascade of disc destruction. These include:

  • Age > 60 (this being a disease of wear and tear)
  • Dry disc
  • Repetitive back movements
  • Trauma
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Poor nutritional habits
  • Persisting hypotensive disorders

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

Age plays a major role in the development of arthritis in degenerative disc disease. However, not everyone above the age of 65 develops symptomatic arthritis. An MRI of a 65 year old person is likely to show evidence of degenerative changes in the spinal joints without symptom manifestation.

The vertebral disc serves as a shock absorber in the spinal column. Loss of integrity in the discs causes the joint facets to dry up and disrupts the normal, smooth sliding of joints against each other upon movement.

Degenerative disc disease can be categorized according to the following three stages:

  1. Dysfunction: cartilage destruction causing: nagging pain, reduced spinal mobility, pain during extension, localized tenderness with accompanying local muscle spasms.
  2. Instability: the space between the disc is shortened causing severe pain when standing. The pain gets worse on bending, lifting things, twisting movements. The pain radiates from the vertebral joints to the buttocks and thighs. For cervical instability, pain tends to radiate to the shoulders and hands. Numbness and weakness in the limbs is not uncommon.
  3. Re-stabilization: formation of new structures called osteophytes inside the joints often causing spinal stenosis. Pain in this stage is debilitating, necessitating hospitalization. Movement is severely compromised with marked stiffness and in some cases scoliosis.

Treatment of Degenerative Disc Disease

Dr. Burke, an orthopedic specialist, manages thousands of patients with degenerative disc disease. He has acquired years of experience in the evolving methods of therapy. He is up to speed with the very latest therapeutic options. He offers the following treatment plans:

  • Non-surgical management
    • NSAIDs
    • Oral steroids
    • Local steroid injections
    • Muscle training exercises
    • Heat/cold therapy
    • Physiotherapy
  • Surgical management
    • Spinal decompression
    • Spinal fusion
    • Spinal mobilization
    • Lumber discectomy
    • Total disc replacement