The term “Degenerative Disc Disease” (DDD) is a bit misleading, in that it is not really a disease at all. It is an extremely common condition that refers to the slow breakdown of the discs in the spine that can occur naturally as a side effect of aging, or as a secondary effect of another condition such as arthritis. Often the diagnosis of DDD is used to collectively refer to the breakdown of the disc itself as well as the secondary symptoms that are associated with it, including but not limited to localized pain, inflammation, movement restriction, headaches, and numbness/tingling in the arms or legs. Since DDD is typically a progressive condition, symptoms will usually start off mild and/or occasional, and become more persistent and severe over time. It can occur with or without a history of trauma.
More often DDD occurs as a natural effect of aging. The soft tissue that makes up the spinal discs depends upon movement to stay healthy, and if individual movement between the vertebrae is lost due to traumatic stress, postural changes, inactivity or other causes, the discs begin to break down. The early stages of DDD are usually completely asymptomatic, so by the time symptoms begin and the condition is diagnosed, it has had years to progress and become chronic.
A diagnosis of DDD can be frightening and frustrating, mainly because medical providers are often in disagreement about what the diagnosis means and how to treat it. Some doctors are hesitant to directly make a diagnosis of DDD, instead calling it an “arthritis”. This is a very misleading term, typically overused simply because most people have a basic understanding of what arthritis means, but few people understand DDD. The difference is simple: arthritis is a very specific medical condition, and every arthritis has degeneration as a characteristic. However, not every degeneration is due to arthritis, and the treatment options for each condition can vary drastically.
To fully diagnose DDD, a thorough review of medical and family history is performed, as well as orthopedic testing. X-rays are typically obtained to fully assess the location, extent and severity of the actual degeneration, and also to rule out the possibility of alternate conditions that can show the same type of symptoms, such as fractures, tumors and infection.
Proper treatment of DDD is extremely important, since untreated cases are frequently progressive, and can result in not only an increase in frequency and severity of active symptoms, but also the possible onset of secondary long-term conditions such as spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis and spondylolisthesis. Treatment is focused not on restoring the disc space already lost, but rather on stopping the progression of the degenerative process, increasing the health and elasticity of the degenerated tissue, and strengthening the supportive muscles to increase the stability of the affected region. At Lowcountry Wellness Center, our team of doctors will provide a complete review of your medical history as well as a comprehensive physical assessment. This will allow the doctors to create a treatment plan customized to your specific condition giving you the best chance for rapid and complete recovery. Call us at (843) 793-1353 to schedule your consultation appointment today!