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The discs in your spine are a crucial part of your anatomy. They are the cushions between your vertebrae that allow you to live your daily life without pain or immobility. Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) occurs when the discs wear down. This is a natural part of the aging process, although some people are affected more than others.

What is DDD and who gets it?
When the discs along your spine deteriorate, you are left without adequate cushion between the bones and they can rub together to cause pain or other issues like spinal stenosis, herniated discs, adult scoliosis, or spondylolisthesis. DDD happens to just about everyone over age 40, although some people don’t develop symptoms and never know it occurs. Those with an increased risk for DDD include people who are overweight, have experienced trauma from an injury, engage in activities or sports that are hard on the spine, have long-time jobs like truck driving that require extended sitting, or who have a history of smoking.

What are the symptoms?
It makes sense that bones grinding together in your spine could cause pain, which can happen in your back or neck depending on the location of the deteriorated disc. Ranging from mild to severe, the pain can even go down your arms or legs. Pain may get worse during certain movements like lifting, bending or twisting and it may come and go instead of being constant. Other common symptoms include trouble moving, tingling or numbness, or leg weakness.

How is it diagnosed?
If you experience back or neck symptoms, schedule an appointment with a qualified specialist such as Dr. Charla Fischer. The physician will ask questions about your symptoms, obtain your medical history, perform an examination, and rate your pain. Various tests may be recommended like spine X-Rays, CT scan, or MRI to view details about your specific condition.

Should I take medicine?
Treatment of DDD starts with pain management if that is one of your symptoms. Common medications include acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, or prescription drugs such as Gabapentin. Dr. Fischer may also suggest steroid injections into the specific disc area to target your pain.

Does physical therapy help?
Physical therapy can be a very beneficial tool for patients who suffer from DDD. You may learn better posture or safer ways to move to reduce pain and avoid further damage. The therapist may manipulate your joints to increase range of motion and stretch your body to improve flexibility and reduce tension. Home exercises are often prescribed to aid flexibility and strengthen your core muscles. Aquatic exercises are another tool that physical therapists use to treat DDD.

Will I need surgery?
After Dr. Fischer has tried more conservative treatments, surgery may be advised. Some common procedures are artificial disc replacement, spinal fusion, or discectomy. Dr. Fischer is experienced in treating DDD and able to help you determine if one of these surgeries is right for you.

To learn more about your options, schedule a consultation with Dr. Fischer.