What Is Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) and How Is It Treated?

Updated on December 13, 2017
Daniella Lopez profile image

Danielle Lopez is a published author, freelance health and medical writer, biochemistry student, and certified doula.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease, or DDD, is caused by degeneration of the discs in the spinal column. Age can cause this, but most of the time it is cause by some sort of trauma to the spine. People with a bulging or herniated disc almost always have this disease, as well as people with scoliosis.

Symptoms range from person to person, and they can also be affected by the particular location of the spinal injury. People with lower back injuries can experience numbness and tingling in the legs and buttocks. The symptoms can also become as severe as temporary paralysis in one or both legs. Someone with upper back pain can experience headaches, numbness, and tingling of the neck and arms (or arm). Muscle spasms, memory loss, and weakness in the limbs are also possible symptoms.

In some cases, DDD has been seen as a hereditary disease. However, not all doctors agree about this, and there have been no conclusive studies done to prove one way or the other.

DDD is often triggered after a severe spinal injury, such as a herniated disc.
DDD is often triggered after a severe spinal injury, such as a herniated disc. | Source

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that extends at least six months after the initial injury. The pain can be intermittent or constant. Only a doctor can truly diagnose chronic pain. If you believe you suffer from this type of pain, consult with your doctor immediately.

Treatments and Procedures

Treatment for DDD can be somewhat complicated. Most doctors will start you on physical therapy and pain medications to see if some of the pain is alleviated. Others might try steroid injections at the points on the affected discs to directly alleviate the pain.

If these methods do not work, your doctor might recommend surgery. They can perform a spinal fusion, place rods into your spinal column, and a few other alternative surgery methods. Surgery is entirely up to you, and you should not feel pressured by your doctor to have surgery unless your ailment has become life-threatening.

Alternative therapies: Acupuncture, herbs, pool therapy, and massages are alternative options that may help treat the pain. Look into these options and see if they're right for you. You should also check with you insurance and see if they cover any of these options. Some insurances will pay for them if your doctor states that he or she believes you could really benefit from such methods.

Review every option available to you with your doctor. Talk to your family about these options and see what best fits your lifestyle. Also, making simple lifestyle changes can make a world of difference in your pain and how you handle it.

Getting Support

There are MANY ways to get support for DDD and back pain. Ask your doctor if any local hospitals sponsor support groups related to your ailment. There are also several online support groups. Keep family and friends informed on your health so that you can gain their support and help through the pain.

Natural medicines, like herbs, may be able to help you find some much needed relief from your DDD.
Natural medicines, like herbs, may be able to help you find some much needed relief from your DDD. | Source

My Own Battle

My own battle with DDD began when I was 15. I had a serious horseback riding injury that left me with one herniated disc, two bulging discs, and a partially severed sciatic nerve. It took over a year for the doctors to actually figure out what was wrong with my back. Since I was only a teenager, most doctors assumed I was making up the pain, or exaggerating.

At 16 I began extensive physical therapy, which I only received minor relief. By 18 I was on a plethora of pain meds and undergoing physical therapy; all whilst going to college full time and working full time. I was absolutely miserable! The pain medications didn't help at all, the physical therapy seemed to cause more pain than it actually was relieving, and the stress of college life was just adding to the pain. My junior year of college was spent almost entirely in and out of the hospital. My back pain had spiraled out of control and I was beginning to experience early paralysis from the waist down.

At 20, I decided I needed to change my lifestyle. I began working from home, instead of physically going to a job. I had already completed my associate's degree at this time, so I decided to take a break from school to get my health in order. This was probably the hardest decision for me because I had been studying pre-pharmacy and was really eager to begin medical school. However, I knew that if I didn't take action to get healthier, I would have bigger issues to deal with.

I began practicing yoga on a regular basis. I also stopped taking all the pain medications I was on except for an occasional Tylenol or Naproxen (note: Consult with your doctor before doing anything of this nature). Eliminating the stress in my life was something I absolutely had to do. I noticed that whenever I was stressed, my pain pain seemed to be far worse. The yoga helped tremendously with this and I also began practicing meditation to help center myself better.

It was also around this time that I met my husband. We didn't begin dating until after I turned 21, but we had been friends for over a year at this point. He has been my rock and has helped me through the pain like no one else ever had. Being so young, I was always worried that I would never find someone near my age that would be understanding of chronic pain or of the fact that I wouldn't be as healthy as most people my age. He proved me wrong on all my fears. He took on my issues, has held me when I've cried because the pain has been too much, and has not missed a single one of my doctor appointments. I have truly been blessed with having him enter my life.

I became pregnant, even after doctors told me countless times I would never be able to become pregnant due to my back. I gave birth to healthy little boy. Pregnancy was probably the most amazing thing to happen to my husband and me. We had wanted to start a family very badly, but assumed we would have to resort to adoption. Without trying to become pregnant, we became pregnant! I suppose children like to sneak up on you like that.

I still practice meditation and yoga. I am a practicing Pagan; my religion has helped me stay tough through the pain and stress DDD causes. I no longer take any pain meds, but have embarked on more alternative medicines, such as herbs.

DDD can be managed. There are many options, even surgery, that can help you manage the pain. Consult with your doctor and try different methods to help. You don't have to live with this on your own. There are many ways of dealing with the pain.

Do you or someone you know have DDD?

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    • profile image

      Jessica 5 months ago

      What kind of herbs do you use?

    • profile image

      AgentOrg 6 months ago

      I run across this story @ a time when opiate pain managemnt is under heavy fire. My father was a victim of agent orange, he was a vietnam vet. He developed serious spine problems then i & my sister came along. I was a heavy weight lifter till 27 yrs old when my injuries wouldnt go away, they were getting worse. I have DDD, so does my sister. It doesnt stop there,,, i have bipolar illness, sleep apnea, anxiety. The VA studies into the genetic consequences of agent org were inconclusive, oh I bet they were for their own interest. Let me tell you that ive been on all types of opiates for what now is just a miserable existence. I love the Lord, ive begged for healing for release from opiates, ive listened to counselors tell me i could live w/o opiates if i started meditation, yoga, did ice packs & that sort of GARBAGE. Maybe i sound a little upset, YES i am, ive found no release & i get insulted because people want to tell me what will work when they dont have any clue as to what i have to look forward to everyday. Peace everyone

    • profile image

      Jes 14 months ago

      my visits to chiropractors make me feel waay better and impove my posture 100%. your chiropractor must not have been very good.

      doctors only want you to avoid them because theyll lose money on visits and medications

    • profile image

      Sand 14 months ago

      Took 3 weeks to get approved for chiropractor , finally went today , was only in a few minutes , yes they push down on my spine and there were a few cracks , then on each side , that was it ! Took me 45 minutes to drive one way , I thought that he would have done more ? I watched a lot of you tube and they seem to work on people 15 - 20 minutes at a time ,I have not noticed a difference yet

    • profile image

      Creativegoth. 15 months ago

      My Doctor told me not to use a Chiropractors, she told me that they can cause more damage, I went to one once, she was pushing down on my spine, went I breathed out, I heard a few cracks, I went light-headed, I told my Dr, she advised me to stop, after the session, I was in a lot of pain, for a few days after, talk to your doctor first..

    • profile image

      Sand 15 months ago

      Has anyone tried chiropracters

    • profile image

      Laurajhanrahan@gmail.com 17 months ago

      I'm a 28 year old woman last year I was in a car accident but not a major one a few weeks later I was diagnosed with DDD and oseophyte ontop of that .... I'm am in alot of pain and have bad migraine every day ...some day even vomiting ...it has effect my c4 to my c7 and also in the middle of my spine ....I have alot of physio done and also had injection into my head and shoulder and I'm on morphine pain killers and nothing is working ....can any body suggest anything ...all help appreciated ...

    • profile image

      Christie 2 years ago

      i have had fusion of C 4/5 and 6/7 I have DDD in my neck as well as my joints... I have a bulging and compression as well. But because I am not a "textbook case" they don't want to do another surgery to correct the issue. I failed on 2 nerve blocks and there was so many bones Spurs just trying to get through I was told I had the spine of a 90 year old . ( I'm 45) I have 15 years in pharmacy... I don't want to sign the 30 day contracts and be the Cll junkies. The pain level some days though is out of control. The change in the barometric pressure brings on my migraines... Turn my neck the wrong way I pinch the nerve completely and have numbness and tingling in my hands and head... Chiropractic, massage, physical therapy... 5 years of this ... HELP !!!

    • profile image

      creativegoth 2 years ago

      I spoke to my Doctor, she recommended Tai Chi, I went to classes, it's very slow movements, lot's of different exercises, to open up your joints, it helped me, but don't overdo it, I did, and was in bed for 3 days, listen to your instructor...

    • profile image

      Jeannie 2 years ago

      Im on medicare and can't afford alot of these things so. Does anyone know some excersises. Mind is in neck could use any help I can get.

    • profile image

      nb 2 years ago

      It's nice to known I'm not alone. At 24 I was told I had the neck of a 90 yr old and would require surgery in my 30s. I don't want surgery but struggle with pain daily. I also have atrophy of the right arm/shoulder muscles. Working out and therapy seem to make it worse and always lead to a migraine the next day. Not fun!

    • profile image

      bec 2 years ago

      I first was diagnosed 6 years ago with DDD. Since, I have had 2 successfully vbac's and am not searching for some treatment. I am curious if anyone has had atrophy of a muscle due to DDD as the reason I was diagnosed started with atrophy of my entire right deltoid muscle. Through tests, Dr's found bulging discs from C4-C6 yet no know ideas for the sudden atrophy. I was never injured.

    • profile image

      creativegoth 4 years ago

      I am now on morphine tablet's, it's getting me down, at night I take Pregabalin, to help me sleep, but wake early due to pain, I think I need to move to a warmer climate, my last holiday in Spain, the heat on my bones seemed to cause less pain, I have to wear a brace every time I go out now. Next stop I think for me is, the butcher's shop window, at least I try to be cheerful.

    • profile image

      barbara 4 years ago

      I too have ben diagnosed with ddd last year and massive arthrities in 90% of my body. The pain has ben overwhelming and in the last few days I have ben losing any use from myhips down. I am getting to the end of my rope. I can't stand the pain anymore and I have no insurance. I dontknow what to d.

    • profile image

      Elizabeth 5 years ago

      Hi everyone. I'm 27 years old and was diagnosed with DDD about 7 months ago. I have one disc in my lower back that's out and two in my upper back which has caused two of my ribs to become dislocated. If anyone out there has this same problem with your ribs, will you please let me know what you do for pain relief. I take Ibuprofen all the time, but it's now causing me to have ulcers. AHHHHH!!! It's never ending it seems. Anyone out there. Let me know please! Thank you

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      You're very welcome, Lynda. Thank you for reading this post. I hope all goes well with your diagnosis and that you are able to find some relief. Blessed be.

    • profile image

      lynda 5 years ago

      I've read all your messages and I thank you all for writing. It has opened my eyes to the pain.I was just diagnosed with DDD last Sunday at ER. My Dr. now knows and I see her next Thursday. It seems a long way away too. I also have Fibro, osteoarthritis,eye problems such as eventually going blind, I'm 57 now with a very caring husband and Dr. I will definitely come back here to read all your letters. Thank you so much for being here .

    • profile image

      creativegoth 5 years ago

      I too suffer from DDD, I've just had another course of steroid injections in my facet joints, this was the 5th go with these, the longest I've been pain free was with the first lot of injections, I was free from pain free for about a month and a half, but now they don't seem to last that long now, I had my last ones done last Sunday.

    • JakeBraekes profile image

      JakeBraekes 5 years ago

      Very interesting article. Some lingering back pain is caused by trauma and some by accumulated anxiety and stress. For those who have tried everything and have found no relief for their various back problems, I suggest reading "Healing Back Pain", by John Sarno MD. You will find information from an expert on spines and rehab, based on his fifty years experience at the Rusk Institute in NYC. You won't find any exercises or stretches but you will find knowledge to help you with most back problems.

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      There are a lot of ways to manage the pain. Walking, yoga, herbal remedies... you don't have to rely entirely on pain meds.

    • profile image

      Just diagnosed... 5 years ago

      So I've been suffering with terrible back pain every single night when I try to lay down for 21 months now. I was just diagnosed on Friday with childhood Scheuermann's and DDD in my T6-T9. I'm overwhelmed and terrified. I have a 15 month old daughter that I can't pick up out of her crib in the morning.... How do I manage the pain? I currently use Tylenol and am waiting for my back specialist appointment that's in 2 weeks. All I can think is what if I can't pick her up anymore? How do I get her to day care? Will I loose my job? Sigh... I can't concentrate at work, I wish my appt was sooner.

      Thanks for the article, sorry for the vent. I just feel so alone right now. :/

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 6 years ago from Arkansas

      You're welcome fucsia! Thanks for reading.

    • fucsia profile image

      fucsia 6 years ago

      This is a common and very painful disorder. Thanks for sharing this informative page.

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 6 years ago from Arkansas

      Sorry for your pain, hun. But I'm glad you've found something that helps!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      I have DDD, too. The worst part to me is the nerve damage in my lower legs. And the only thing that really mitigates the pain is daily strenuous exercise. Thanks for a good hub.

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 6 years ago from Arkansas

      Thank you very much for your in depth comment! I'm sorry to hear this runs in your family. I hope you haven't had to deal with the complications of DDD yourself. Thanks for reading!

    • MikeNV profile image

      MikeNV 6 years ago from Henderson, NV

      "Degenerative Disc Disease (or DDD) is caused by degeneration of the discs in the spinal column"

      The cause of the disease is actually unknown. Doctors are horrible at figuring out the true source/cause of pain and can only offer treatments not cures. Treatments can become very expensive and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.

      The problem that no Doctor will discus is there is no blood supply to spinal discs after about age 20. All the nutrition to the discs must be absorbed by the bony endplates in the spinal column itself. If blood were available they would heal quickly... but its not. So injury can really create a lifelong problem. Injury to the disc as a result of poor posture and poor nutrtion develops over time and is not reversable.

      It's a horriffic disease for some, and for others it goes entirely unnoticed. This is ever worse because one Xray can show significant damage and that person may never feel the complications, another can show minimal damage and that person suffers immeasurably.

      This disease runs in my family and its part of many families. Arthritis of the spine with no cure is not a pleasant prospect. Sorry to hear you are suffering so much.

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