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Degenerative disc disease is a condition in which one or more of the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae become damaged, resulting in arthritis of the spine.
This can occur in any area of the spine and usually is a result of the normal aging process.
The damage to the discs results in narrowing and degeneration of the disc, and this transfers stress to other supporting structures. The vertebrae react with the formation of bone spurs and enlargement of ligaments. This sometimes leads to a narrowing of the area for the spinal cord and nerves.Deformity of the spine can also result.
Degeneration of the spine leads to the onset pain, often developing very slowly. As the degeneration gets worse, the pain will often increase and can become severe in some patients. The symptoms may be in the cervical and/or lumbar spine. Pain radiating into the arms or legs may also occur.
After a careful history and physical examination of the patient, x-rays will usually show the degeneration of the affected part of the spine. In addition, an MRI or CT may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
For most patients, non-operative care such as exercise, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs and alteration of certain daily activities will eliminate or reduce the pain significantly.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary and new minimally invasive techniques permit a faster recovery and return to normal activity. These techniques include the X lift procedure, where a device is inserted into the spine from the side. Alternatively, a minimally invasive TLIF (transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion) may be a better choice. In certain cases, a disc replacement may be considered. In some situations the fusion is done from the front of the spine (called an anterior spinal fusion).