Degenerative Disc Disease – Cervical and Lumbar

Degenerative Disc DiseaseI have become a bit of a self proclaimed expert on the subject of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease and Cervical Disc Herniations. I’ve seen several far too many Doctors who have offered ZERO answers on how to treat Degenerative Disc Disease. They recognize the disease and offer nothing more than “It’s part of Aging”. Degenerative Disc Disease can be asymptomatic for years and years then rear its ugly head. Too bad we don’t have early warning signs or perhaps we do and just don’t realize its not just a muscle strain it’s degenerative disc disease.

Degenerative Joint Disease of the Spine – What s it?

In simplest terms degenerative joint disease of the cervical, throacic and lumbar spine is not really a disease, its a condition caused by mechanical stress. You don’t “catch it” you develop it over the years or as a result of traumatic injury. DDD means the disc material between your vertebrae have worn.

The degree of wear may not actually correlate to the amount of pain you feel. Some patients with severe DDD on imaging studies have little pain, while others with relatively little Imaging Evidence have severe pain. This can be due to a number of factors including inflammatory proteins within the disc themselves. For this reason there is no solid agreement int he medical community as to what constitutes Degenerative Disc Disease. At what point do you have it and what does that mean?

Just because you have DDD doesn’t mean it will get worse in the future. Pain you feel now may actually subside or completely disappear even though your disc continues to lessen in height and resiliency with time. This is why so many are told Surgery is NOT a good option, even if there appears to be significant DDD on an MRI Scan. This is also what makes lower back pain so insidious. Diagnosis can not be made on the basis of imaging studies alone.

DDD of the Cervical Spine can be more problematic because the nerves in the Cervical Spine control more bodily functions. Most people don’t realize the true Spinal Cord ends in most patients around the L1 level and branches out to many nerve roots called the “cauda equina” that travel to the lower body and legs. Essentially you are not going to become paralyzed from a Degenerated Disc in the Lumbar Spine, whereas this is not the case in the Cervical Spine. This is another reason Doctors are adverse to Surgery in the Lower Back. It’s not going to kill you, but your life has the potential to be very unpleasant if you don’t figure out how to stop the pain.

The good news is if it isn’t causing you pain you are lucky. It may only be limiting your range of motion, but that may not be too bad. One Neurosurgeon told me all my neck vertebrae would be fused together in 10 years (well 4 of them anyways). And each is responsible for 3% of my neck motion. He said 85% of the motion of the neck actually happens at the top of the neck where your spine meets your skull. In my research his idea was correct, but the numbers were off. I hate it when Physicians talk down to me like I’m too stupid to understand Human Anatomy.

Answers about Degenerative Disc Disease

Part of the confusion probably comes from the term “degenerative”, which implies that it will get worse with age. While the disc degeneration is likely to progress over time, the associated pain from degenerative disc disease usually does not get worse and in fact usually gets better over time.

Another source of confusion is probably created by the term “disease”, which is actually a misnomer. Again degenerative disc disease is actually not a disease at all, but rather a degenerative condition that at times can produce pain from a damaged disc. Degenerative disc disease is quite variable in its nature and severity. With age, all people will exhibit changes in their discs consistent with degeneration. However, not all people will develop symptoms. Degeneration of the joints is unavoidable, but the speed of joint degeneration can be slowed.

Finally, some of the confusion surrounding degenerative disc disease probably comes from the medical community, as few medical professionals have yet to agree on what the phrase describes. Because few practitioners agree on what does and does not constitute a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, very few medical textbooks even attempt to give an accurate description. Therefore, while many practitioners believe that degenerative disc disease is a common cause of low back pain in young adults, very few agree on the implications.


Posted by on Jul 12th, 2008 and filed under Back Pain, Neck Pain. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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