More than 400 million people around the globe have symptomatic degenerative disc disease (DDD), making it one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. While there are discs all along your spine, some are more prone to this condition than others.
To help you better understand DDD and where it’s likely to strike, the team here at Texas Spine Consultants, including Michael Hennessy, MD, Andrew Park, MD, Chester Donnally, MD, Robert Viere, MD, and Heidi Lee, MD, present the following information.
Degenerative disc disease at a glance
Despite its name, DDD isn’t really a disease, but a set of symptoms that arise when the intervertebral discs that separate your vertebra succumb to excessive wear-and-tear and break down.
Under normal circumstances, these discs provide cushioning and support along your spine. To accomplish this, each of your discs contains a tough outer layer called the annulus, which is made from collagen fibers. The annulus houses a soft, jelly-like substance called the nucleus pulposus.
With age and excessive forces, the outer layers of your discs can become brittle, leaving them vulnerable to herniation, bulging, and flattening.
Anatomy and workload of your spine
Your spine, which stretches from the base of your skull to your pelvis, contains 33 vertebrae that are separated by 23 intervertebral discs. The five main sections of your spine include your:
- Cervical spine (neck), with 7 vertebrae and 6 discs
- Thoracic spine (mid back), which contains 12 vertebrae and 12 discs
- Lumbar spine (low back), with 5 vertebrae and 5 discs
- Sacrum, which contains 5 vertebrae
- Coccyx, which is made up of 4 vertebrae that are fused together
As you will note, there are no discs in your sacrum or coccyx.
Where DDD can strike
Since we’ve eliminated your sacrum or coccyx from potential areas where DDD can develop, that leaves three other areas of your spine. When it comes to the 12 vertebrae and discs in your thoracic spine, this area of your back doesn’t enjoy much movement, which means there’s little wear-and-tear in these discs.
This leaves us with your neck and low back, which is where the DDD tends to develop most. These two areas of your spine enjoy a wide range of movement and are responsible for an incredible amount of support. Your cervical spine supports the entire weight of your head and your lumbar spine supports your upper body.
The results of DDD in these areas can include localized pain, as well as symptoms that travel into your limbs (your arms when the DDD is in your neck and in your legs when the disc degeneration is in your low back).
As experts in DDD, we offer several solutions that can relieve this pain and discomfort, including:
- Corticosteroid injections
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Physical therapy
- Surgery to fuse the spine
- Surgical placement of artificial discs
To learn more about your options for combatting the symptoms of DDD, please contact one of our Texas offices. We have convenient locations in Addison and Plano where you can schedule an appointment today.