Everything You Need to Know About Degenerative Disc Disease

degenerative disc disease

Is your back pain caused by degenerative disc disease? Our guide outlines common symptoms and effective treatment options.

Degenerative disc disease is marked by a gradual weakening of the cartilage that cushions each vertebrae of the spine. These discs enable the spine to move freely and protect the vertebrae from direct friction. As we age, however, the cartilage loses its elasticity, allowing the bones to grind against each other. This friction may irritate the surrounding nerves, causing pain along the spine.

In most cases of degenerative disc disease, patients experience a tolerable level of chronic discomfort, typically in the lower back or neck, with occasional bouts of severe pain. In fact, many people may not be aware they have the condition until the pain begins to interfere with their daily activities. Additional symptoms of degenerative disc disease include muscle spasms, weakness, numbness and pain radiating through the arms or legs.

To diagnose degenerative disc disease, an orthopedic specialist will perform a physical exam of your spine, as well as order imaging tests, such as an MRI. These studies will help determine which therapy is best suited for your unique circumstances.


Degenerative disc disease is first treated with conservative methods, ranging from physical therapy to pain medication. Your initial therapy regimen might feature:

Manual Message

During this procedure, a physical therapist will manually message your spine to relax tense muscles and reduce pressure on the nerves and joints. Manual message provides temporary relief from discomfort and increases mobility.

Pain Medications

Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be used to relieve degenerative disc pain. In some instances, a mixture of anesthesia and corticosteroids may be injected into the spine to block the pain signals to the brain.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for degenerative disc disease centers on strengthening and stretching the muscles near the spine. These exercises can help reduce discomfort and provide additional support to the spinal column. Your physical therapist may recommend low-impact aerobic activities such as pedaling a stationary bike or doing water aerobics. Exercise also produces endorphins, which act as a natural pain reliever.


If conservative treatments fail to lessen the pain, surgical intervention may be recommended. Fortunately, most people respond well to physical therapy and pain medications, and surgery is rarely required.

Nevertheless, there are a variety of surgical options that can provide long-term relief for degenerative disc disease. One such procedure is disc replacement surgery, where the surgeon removes all or most of the painful disc and implants an artificial disc made of metal or plastic-like materials. Spinal fusion surgery is a more extensive procedure in which a surgeon grafts bone harvested from the patient or a donor between the vertebrae. The graft is secured to the spine with screws, rods or metal plates.

Following surgery, patients are asked to wear a brace to allow the spine to heal properly. Surgery is followed by physical therapy to improve range of motion, strengthen muscles, and help patients avoid movements that aggravate the spine.

The orthopedic experts at New York Bone & Joint Specialists are well-versed in treatment options for degenerative disc disease, and can customize a therapy plan for your specific needs. Contact the office today to schedule an appointment.

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