Degenerative Disc Disease

What is it?

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is a type of osteoarthritis of the spine. Your spine comprises of 33 vertebrae stacked on top of each other in a column, separated by a piece of cartilage, called the intervertebral disc. The intervertebral disc consists of two rings of material. The inner ring is very gelatinous and acts as the shock absorber. This portion looses water with age or injury which causes it to shrivel/decrease in volume and become less effective as a shock absorber. This disc degeneration can result in the formation of bone spurs and the compression and irritation of nerves surrounding the effected area. This can make pain worse and can also result in pain that is referred to other areas of the body such as the arms and legs. Individuals who smoke, are obese, do heavy physical labor, or who don’t get much exercise are at a much higher risk for developing DDD.

How does it feel?

Depending on the location and severity of the disc degeneration, it can feel extremely different. Some can have mild or no pain or their pain can be quite intense. If the degenerative disc is in the neck it can also cause pain in the arm, shoulder, and neck. If the disc is in the low back, it might also cause pain in the back, buttocks, or legs. Many people note that pain is worsened with activities such as sitting, bending, and reaching. In more severe cases of DDD, numbness and tingling can occur.

Can Degenerative Disc Disease be prevented?

To some extent, DDD is a natural result of aging. However, there are things that you can do to slow the process down. Using proper lifting techniques and working out regularly will help to stall the process a bit.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists can help relieve pain and inflammation through manual therapy, massage, and complementary therapies such as electronic stimulation, ultrasound, and heat/ice. Your physical therapist will design a series of stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercises that work together to relieve pain, decrease stress on the spine, and increase overall strength and mobility. Physical therapists will also educate you on proper lifting techniques and proper posture to help decrease stress on the joints with every day activities to keep things from getting worse.

Check out this video to learn more about DDD:

Or call us at PROCare Physical Therapy at 414-858-1361 to schedule a FREE pain assessment with a physical therapist.

*Information for this blog was provided by and the Mayo Clinic*

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