Degenerative Disc Disease in the Neck
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) in the neck is relatively common because the cervical (upper) region of the spine is highly flexible and must also support the weight of the head. The stress of weight and movement can accelerate the natural degeneration of spinal anatomy and lead to the development of degenerative disc disease. Thile DDD is not necessarily symptomatic itself, it can cause chronic neck pain and other symptoms when nerve compression occurs within the cervical spine.
The vertebrae in the cervical spine are separated and cushioned by thick, spongy discs that act like miniature shock absorbers for the neck. Each disc is composed of a durable outer layer and gel-like inner disc material, which work together to give each disc its strength and flexibility. Over the years, age-related loss of water and protein content that make discs dry and brittle cause degenerative disc disease in the neck to occur. This makes the discs, especially in the neck and lower back, less able to absorb the stress placed on the spine and can lead to conditions like bulging, herniated, and collapsed discs, among others.
In addition to the natural aging process, other factors that contribute to the deterioration of the cervical spine include:
- Practicing poor posture
- Participating in high-impact sports and other physically demanding activities
- Being in a line of work that requires frequent bending, twisting, or lifting
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use
- Sustaining a traumatic vertebral injury
Although degenerative disc disease in the neck may be a frightening diagnosis, there are plenty of treatment options available that can effectively relieve the pain associated with this condition.
To address pain and inflammation resulting from degenerative disc disease in the neck, a physician may recommend one or more of the following treatment options.
The avoidance or modification of certain body positions and movements, such as flexing the neck forward while viewing a computer screen, can potentially improve painful symptoms. In general, positive lifestyle practices such as exercising regularly, consuming a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding tobacco, and practicing good posture can be beneficial for overall health as well as spinal health.
A physical therapist or other healthcare professional can prescribe an appropriate stretching and exercise regimen to meet a patient’s specific needs. A common goal is to increase flexibility and strength of the muscles that support the neck, which in turn can help reduce pain and inflammation.
Hot and Cold Therapy
An ice pack or heating pad can be applied directly to a painful area in the neck as needed for temporary relief.
Pain Management Using Medications of Injections
Over-the-counter pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can often be effective. If further relief is needed, a physician may prescribe stronger pain medications, such as oral steroids or muscle relaxants. Other options may include cervical epidural steroid injections and cervical facet injections, which can deliver powerful anti-inflammatory medications directly to a painful area in the neck.
Additionally, some patients also benefit from complementary and alternative treatments for degenerative disc disease in the neck, such as chiropractic manipulation, therapeutic massage, acupuncture, and neck bracing.
Surgical Treatment Options
For severe or persistent symptoms that do not respond ti conservative treatment, surgery may be considered. For instance, cervical degenerative joint disease can potentially cause neurological symptoms, such as persistent arm numbness, muscle weakness, walking difficulties, or loss of bowel control. Since these symptoms can indicate a risk of permanent nerve damage, surgery may be recommended to alleviate pressure on a compressed spinal nerve.
If you are considering surgery to address degenerative disc disease in the neck, contact BEST Health System to learn more about our minimally invasive procedures. Get started on your path to recovery today. The BEST is yet to come.