Spinal discs are round, jelly like structures that act as a cushion between vertebral bodies, the bones that make up the spinal column. Degenerative disc disease describes the changes in those discs that typically occur with age. These changes can be caused by loss of fluid in the discs or cracks in the outer coat of the disc. Risk factors for degenerative disc disease include smoking, obesity, and injury.
Degenerative disc disease can occur anywhere in the spinal column but occurs most frequently in the neck (cervical) or lower (lumbar) spine. Depending on the location of the discs involved, degenerative disc disease can result in neck pain, back pain, numbness, tingling, disc herniation, or spinal stenosis. Some patients with degenerative disc disease may not have any symptoms at all. Degenerative disc disease is diagnosed based on a patient's history, physical exam and imaging studies such as x-ray, MRI or CT scan. Treatment is generally guided by severity of symptoms and begins with non-invasive treatments such as ice or heat, pain medications, or physical therapy. Surgery is reserved for those patients who do not experience significant relief from the conservative therapies. Surgical options include artificial discs, discectomy, and minimally invasive microdiscectomy.