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Degenerative Disc Disease

Treating Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease isn’t exactly a “disease” but rather a reference to the various changes that naturally occur in your spinal discs due to aging or excessive use. The spinal discs are components between the vertebrae responsible for shock absorption; they cushion the spine, helping you remain flexible and mobile. However, as you grow older, the spinal discs start showing signs of wear and tear, leading to spinal pain along the spinal column, usually in the lumbar region.

Due to limited blood supply, the spinal discs aren’t capable of self-healing when an injury occurs. Degenerative disc disease may lead to several changes to your spinal discs — they may dry out, start thinning, or harden. When your spinal discs start thinning, you may suffer significant pain due to the subsequent inflammation of your bone and joints. You may also suffer from inflammation and severe pain if the jelly-like fluid within the discs leaks out due to injuries. Most people eventually suffer from disc degeneration, but only some people experience pain associated with disc degeneration.

man and woman running along the water


  • Short or constant pain in back or neck regions.
  • Pain in your lower back and buttocks.
  • Mild to severe pain that comes and goes.
  • The pain worsens when you sit down.
  • The pain worsens when you twist, lift, bend, or make other such movements.
  • Pain relief when you lie down or move around.
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in your legs.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • The exact location of the pain depends on the location of the affected disc.


  • Age: When you’re young, the cervical discs are extremely fluid and filled with water. As you grow older, they lose water and start thinning. The flatter the discs, the less capable they are of shock absorption. As such, degenerative disc disease occurs due to the natural aging process.
  • Injuries: Sudden movements or injuries, such as heavy lifting, may cause minor injuries on the outer walls of the spinal discs. If the walls of the spinal discs crack or weaken, the soft inner core may leak through the cracks, leading to bulging or herniated discs. Repetitive stress can also lead to disc degeneration.

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During your initial consultation, Dr. Brian McHugh will discuss your medical history and symptoms. The doctor will ask you questions about your spinal pain, including how long it has lasted, the precise location of the pain, if the pain has spread to other locations, if you have a medical history of spinal problems, and if you have a family history of such problems. Dr. McHugh may also ask you to perform certain movements to check for mobility and flexibility. In some situations, he may recommend diagnostic tests, including x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, myelograms, etc., allowing them to identify the precise root cause of your problems.

woman with lower back pain


Dr. Brian McHugh aims to treat degenerative disc disease with the least invasive and simplest treatments possible. If you’re suffering from mild pain, the doctor may recommend bed rest, limited activities, and mild pain medications. The doctor may also recommend steroidal epidural injections or physical therapy for immediate pain relief and long-term recovery. However, if non-surgical treatments fail to yield results, or you’re suffering from severe pain, the doctor may recommend one of the following minimally-invasive surgical procedures:
Minimally invasive interbody fusion, i.e., the vertebrae above and below the disc are fused to minimize shock.
Artificial disc replacement.

  • Discectomy, i.e., the affected disc is removed either completely or partially.
  • Laminotomy, i.e., more space is made around the disc to take the pressure off your nerve roots.

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