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Doctors and providers who treat this condition

  

Degenerative Disk Disease

Spinal disks are gel-filled cushions between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). The disks act like shock absorbers. Over time, the disks may break down. This disorder is called degenerative disk disease (DDD).

DDD can affect the neck or back. It is one of the most common causes of low back pain. It is the leading cause of disability in people under age 45 in the United States. The pain usually remains localized to the lower back or neck. Muscle spasm is often present and adds to the pain.

Disk degeneration is a natural part of aging, although it does not cause pain in most persons. It may also occur as a result of repeated minor injuries due to daily activities, sports, or accidents. It may lead to osteoarthritis of the spine. Back pain related to disk disease may come and go or become chronic and last for months or years. If the disk bulges or ruptures (also called “slipped disk” or “herniated disk”), it can put pressure on a nearby spinal nerve and cause neck or back pain that spreads down one arm or leg.

X-rays or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan may aid in the diagnosis. For acute pain, treatment consists of anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, rest, ice, or heat. Narcotic pain medicines may be needed for short-term treatment of sudden worsening of pain. Due to their addictive potential, narcotics are not advised for long-term pain management. Other types of medicines are preferred. Surgery is usually not used to treat this condition unless there is a complication (such as nerve root compression). 

Home Care:

  1. FOR NECK PAIN: Use a comfortable pillow that supports the head and keeps the spine in a neutral position. The head should not be tilted forward or backward.

  2. FOR BACK PAIN:

    • Avoid prolonged sitting. This puts more stress on the lower back than standing or walking. 

    • Establishing a regular exercise program to strengthen the supporting muscles of the spine will make it easier to live with DDD.

  3. During the first 2 days after a flare-up of your pain, apply an ice pack to the painful area for 20 minutes every 2-4 hours. This will reduce swelling and pain. Heat (hot shower, hot bath, or heating pad) works well for muscle spasm. You can start with ice, then switch to heat after 2 days. Some patients feel best alternating ice and heat treatments. Use the method that feels best to you.

  4. You may use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. [NOTE: If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your doctor before using these medicines.]

Follow Up

with your physician, or as directed by our staff.

[NOTE: If x-rays, a CT scan or an MRI scan were taken, they will be reviewed by a radiologist. You will be notified of any new findings that may affect your care.]

Return Promptly

or contact your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Increasing back pain

  • New weakness, numbness, or pain in one or both arms or legs

  • Foot drop (foot drags when you walk)

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

  • Numbness or tingling in the buttock or groin area

  • Unexplained fever over 100.4ºF (38.0ºC)

 

 
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