Degenerative disc disease is among the most common causes of lower back pain. Yet, despite its prevalence, many people have misconceptions about this condition.
To help clear up the confusion—and to enable you to better communicate with your doctor—here are 3 things you need to know about lumbar degenerative disc disease:
1. Your symptoms won’t necessarily get worse over time
When you hear the term “degenerative,” it is logical to assume that your symptoms from degenerative disc disease will progressively worsen over time. This can be a frightening prospect, as you may already be experiencing intense lower back pain from degenerative disc disease.
However, the fact of the matter is that pain from degenerative disc disease actually tends to improve over time, not worsen (this is of course a general statement, and it is possible your symptoms will worsen with age).
In light of this, why is the term “degenerative” used? It refers to the process of your discs degenerating over time, as your discs tend to progressively deteriorate over the years.
2. Degenerative disc disease is not a disease
Perhaps the most common misconception about degenerative disc disease is that it is in fact a disease. The truth is that degenerative disc disease is a degenerative condition that is part of the natural aging process, not a disease.
This means that most people will eventually experience some degree of degeneration to their spinal discs. The good news is that the majority of people will not experience any symptoms from disc degeneration.
Additionally, the degree of degeneration is not always connected to the severity of your symptoms. For example, a person might have severely degenerated discs but experience only minor discomfort.
3. Surgery is the exception, not the rule
Many patients fear that they will eventually need to undergo surgery to address their degenerative disc disease. In reality, the vast majority of degenerative disc disease cases can be successfully treated with nonsurgical measures, including:
- Heat and/or cold therapy
- Activity modification
- Pain medication
Surgery is typically only considered if your day-to day functioning is severely limited by your symptoms (and you have not responded to nonsurgical treatments). If this is the case, your medical professional may recommend lumbar spinal fusion surgery or lumbar disc replacement surgery (depending on your specific situation).
I hope all of the above information has helped to clear up any confusion you may have experienced regarding degenerative disc disease.
Armed with this new clarity, you will be able to better communicate with your doctor—which will hopefully lead to a quicker path to healing.