4 Signs of Degenerative Disc Disease

4 Signs of Degenerative Disc Disease

The discs between your vertebrae are your spine’s shock absorbers, but wear and tear over the years often leads to degenerative disc disease. As your discs wear away, your vertebrae start rubbing together. That’s when the problems start: neck and back pain, as well as other symptoms.

The condition certainly isn’t rare, because most everyone who hits 40 has some level of degenerative disc disease. Some people never develop pain, but if you do, you need to seek treatment.

As a board-certified neurosurgeon, Dr. Benjamin Cohen has expertise in diagnosing and treating degenerative disc disease. His focus is freeing you from pain, enhancing your mobility, and creating a treatment plan that’s completely customized to your needs and goals — no matter which of his services you need. 

Why do the discs degenerate?

In a word, water. When you’re younger, your discs are made up of about 80% water, which makes for plump, cushiony discs. As you age, they become dehydrated, which renders them unable to do the work they were designed to do — protect your vertebrae.

Additionally, with years of physical activity under their belts, your discs' sturdy outer coverings wear away. The blood supply to your discs isn’t abundant, so once they sustain injury, they don’t heal well. This particular problem sets you up for a herniated disc. 

Top degenerative disc disease symptoms

When Dr. Cohen suspects degenerative disc disease in a patient, four of the most identifiable signs and symptoms are:

1. Pain location

Degenerative disc disease causes pain specifically in the neck and lower back due to nerve compression and overall spine instability. 

2. Unpredictable pain emergence

Degenerative disc disease pain can be steady, or it can come and go in flares. And it may strike with a vengeance and feel incapacitating or be more moderate. 

3. Movement-fed pain

If your pain worsens when you perform certain movements, like bending, sitting, or lifting, the culprit is likely degenerative disc disease.

4. Symptoms in addition to pain

As if outright pain isn’t bad enough, you can also experience intolerable and unpredictable muscle spasms, numbness, a “pins and needles” tingling in your arms or legs, and leg muscle weakness. 

Another worrisome fact: Once you have degenerative disc disease, you’re at higher risk for developing other conditions, like scoliosis, spinal stenosis, and spondylolysis (degenerative spine arthritis). 

Which treatments are available for degenerative disc disease?

You’re in the right hands with Dr. Cohen if you’re diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. Before he creates your treatment plan, he collects as much information as he can from you about your symptoms:

Dr. Cohen also talks to you about and observes your ability to walk. 

After he fully evaluates you, Dr. Cohen initially advises conservative treatments. These include over-the-counter pain medications, physical therapy, steroid injections, and electrical stimulation. “E-stim” delivers a mild electrical current to your affected nerves and tissues to provide relief. 

These treatments don’t always end in success for patients. In such cases, Dr. Cohen recommends surgical intervention. He may advise spinal fusion, a procedure where he takes out your damaged disc and fuses the vertebrae together in its absence. 

Dr. Cohen applies a bone graft between your vertebrae to entice your vertebrae to grow toward your graft, creating a single bone. Your graft can either be made of real bone containing living cells, or Dr. Cohen may place a fusion cage containing biochemicals that stimulate bone growth. 

The next step is to use hardware, such as metal screws or plates, to keep the bones in place while they fuse together. 

Another option is artificial disc replacement, where Dr. Cohen removes your damaged disc and replaces it with a synthetic one. This procedure allows you greater range of movement as well. 

Whenever possible, Dr. Cohen performs minimally invasive surgery, which is less traumatic to your body overall. It differs from traditional open surgery because instead of making a large incision, Dr. Cohen just needs to make one or two small ones. 

He then uses small, specially designed cameras and tools to perform your surgery, all while observing a brightly lit, magnified view of your spine, allowing for more precision during surgery.

There are many advantages to minimally invasive surgery. It’s associated with faster healing and recovery, as well as less pain, bleeding, and scarring. After a procedure, you’re at lower risk for post-surgical infection, too. 

These are typically outpatient procedures, but if you require a hospital stay, it’s usually only 1-2 days, far shorter than what’s necessary for a standard surgery. 

Call our office to book an in-person or telemedicine appointment with Dr. Cohen. You can also contact us to request an appointment through our website.

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