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Discs are the soft pads between your vertebrae that give you flexibility and absorb the shocks of daily movements. They have a tough outer shell and a gel-like center. They break down over time. As these discs wear down, they don’t always cause problems. But, if you have degenerative disc disease (DDD), you likely have chronic lower back pain.
What cause DDD, and what are its symptoms?
DDD can occur naturally or can be caused by an injury, such as a twisting injury that damages the disc so it can no longer keep that section of your spine together. This leads to inflammation, and the disc’s tiny slips and slides can cause irritation and pain in that section of your spine. The main symptom is chronic pain localized, usually, in the lower back. DDD pain rarely becomes progressively worse, but it can fluctuate from mild to severe.
How is DDD diagnosed and treated?
One of our orthopedists will use X-ray to see the position of your vertebrae, as well as the disc space between them. An MRI can show the condition of your disc and that disc space. Use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, is always the conservative first-round treatment. Physical therapy, muscle-strengthening exercises, and stretching are also effective.
In more severe cases, oral steroids or epidural steroid injections can be recommended. Patients with severe pain may only get relief with spinal fusion surgery – a procedure that minimizes irritation by placing a piece of bone onto the back of the spine and allows the vertebrae above and below the disc to fuse as the bone graft heals. Sometimes metal screws, rods, or cages are needed to hold the bones in place while they heal.
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