Multi-Level Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease

Written by tracy morris
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Multi-Level Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease
(Gray's Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice, 40th edition (2008), 1576 pages, Churchill-Livingstone, Elsevier)

Degenerative disc disease is the deterioration of the cushioning in between the spinal vertebrae. Any number of factors may cause this condition, including trauma, infection or due to age. Because many older people experience some deteriorating of the spinal disc naturally, it is sometimes referred to as the grey hairs of the spine.


Your spinal column acts like a set of interlocking building blocks to protect your spine. Vertebrae bones protect the spinal column, while the sponge-like discs cushion and separate these bones. Unnatural stress, such as the kind caused by trauma, repetitive misuse or wear due to age can cause the discs to bulge, rupture or shrivel. As the disc injury pushes the vertebrae out of alignment, the entire spine begins to shift. This causes pain and irritation.


Since degenerative disc disease will often affect more than one set of vertebrae and discs at a time, aggressive treatment focuses on several vertebrae and discs at once. Treatment typically focuses on non surgical options, with surgery being reserved as a last resort.

Non Surgical Treatment

According to, non-surgical treatment has shown to be effective in approximately 75 per cent of patients suffering from degenerative disc disease. Some of these treatments involve physical therapy to strengthen surrounding muscles and take pressure off the spine, chiropractic to shift vertebrae back into alignment, immobilisation of parts of the spine for short periods of time during exacerbation of symptoms, and medication to help alleviate pain symptoms.

Surgical Options

If repeated trial of non-surgical options does not prove effective, patients may wish to explore surgical options. A treating physician may also recommend surgery as an option if the condition is causing a prolonged weakening or pain in the limbs, or endangers the function of the spinal cord. Typically, the surgery may involve spinal fusion or a newer procedure called an artificial disc replacement.

Risks Of Surgical Options.

There are a number of risks involved with surgical options, which is why they are often reserved as a last resort. For many patients, the potential risks are outweighed by the benefits that relief following a successful surgery may bring. Patients who undergo a spinal fusion will lose some mobility. For this reason, physicians will rarely fuse more than two vertebrae together. A spinal fusion will also create more stress on adjoining discs, possibly contributing to their eventual breakdown as well. Additionally, because fusion is a major surgery, the disruption of the back muscles can lead to pain itself. Though disc replacement seems to be a more promising surgery, it is still too new to determine long term risks.

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