Trauma micro or macro as a simple lifting accident is the most common cause of disc degeneration. After trauma the discs in the spine dehydrate, or dry out, and lose their ability to act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae. There is minimal blood supply to the discs so they lack the ability to heal or repair themselves.
With symptomatic degenerative disc disease, chronic low back pain sometimes radiates to the hips, or there is pain in the buttocks or thighs while walking; sporadic tingling or weakness through the knees may also be evident. Similar pain may be felt or may increase while sitting, bending, lifting, and twisting. Chronic neck pain can also be caused in the upper spine, with pain radiating to the shoulders, arms and hands.
After an injury, some discs become painful because of inflammation. Some people have nerve endings that penetrate more deeply into the annulus fibrosus, or outer layer of the disc, than others, making the disc more susceptible to becoming a source of pain. The scientific community have the opinion that the healing process involved in the repair of trauma to the outer annulous results in the innervation of the resultant scar tissue, and subsequent pain in the disc, as these nerves become inflamed by nucleous pulposus material. Degenerative disc disease can lead to a chronic debilitating condition and can have a serious negative impact on a person's quality of life. When pain from degenerative disc disease is severe, traditional nonoperative treatment is often ineffective.
Often, degenerative disc disease can be successfully treated without surgery. One or a combination of treatments such as Physical therapy, chiropractic manipulative therapy (CMT), osteopathic manipulation, anti-inflammatory medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, chiropractic treatments, Traction %28orthopedics%29, or spinal injections often provide adequate relief of these troubling symptoms.
Surgery may be recommended if the conservative treatment options do not provide relief within 2 to 3 months. If leg or back pain limits normal activity, if there is weakness or numbness in the legs, if it is difficult to walk or stand, or if medication or physical therapy are ineffective, surgery may be necessary, most often spinal fusion. There are many surgical options for the treatment of degenerative disc disease. The most common surgical treatmets include:
Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion: A procedure that reaches the cervical spine (neck) through a small incision in the front of the neck. The intervertebral disc is removed and replaced with a small plug of bone or other graft substitute, and in time, that will fuse the vertebrae.
Cervical Corpectomy: A procedure that removes a portion of the vertebra and adjacent intervertebral discs to allow for decompression of the cervical spinal cord and spinal nerves. A bone graft, and in some cases a metal plate and screws, is used to stabilize the spine.
Facetectomy: A procedure that removes a part of the facet (a bony structure in the spinal canal) to increase the space.
Foraminotomy: A procedure that enlarges the foramen (the area where the nerve roots exit the spinal canal) to increase the size of the nerve pathway. This surgery can be done alone or with a laminotomy.
Laminoplasty: A procedure that reaches the cervical spine (neck) from the back of the neck. The spinal canal is then reconstructed to make more room for the spinal cord.
Laminotomy: A procedure that removes only a small portion of the lamina (a part of the vertebra) to relieve pressure on the nerve roots.
Micro-discectomy: A procedure that removes a disc through a very small incision using a microscope.
Percutaneous Disc Decompression: A procedure that reduces or eliminates a small portion of the bulging disc through a needle inserted into the disc, minimally invasive.
Spinal Laminectomy: A procedure for treating spinal stenosis by relieving pressure on the spinal cord. A part of the lamina (a part of the vertebra) is removed or trimmed to widen the spinal canal and create more space for the spinal nerves.
New treatments are emerging that are still in the beginning clinical trial phases. Glucosamine injections are thought to offer some pain relief for degenerative discs at best, and at worst, do nothing while also not affecting more aggressive treatment options. Artificial disc replacement is viewed cautiously as a possible alternative to fusion in carefully selected patients. Adult stem cell therapies for disc regeneration are in their infancy. . Mesechymal stem cell therapy trials for knife-less fusion of vertebrae are now beginning in the US as well Gene therapy, growth factor injections, and a variety of stabilization devices are also on the horizon.