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Your Degenerative Disc Disease Is Not What You Think It Is

St Louis Spine and Joint Pain Specialists

back pain

I am a doctor trained in interventional pain management and have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of patients with pain they think needs to be operated on because they have ‘degenerative disc disease’. Many of these people feel discouraged because, as the name implies, they are ‘degenerating’. Well, I am here to set the record straight and make you feel better about your degenerative disc disease.

The good news is that you are not degenerating! The other good news is that you are in good company because degenerative disc disease is as common as gray hair. To really make the point I will say it again, it is as common as gray hair! Starting in a person’s 20’s and definitely by a person’s 30’s almost everyone has some signs of degenerative disc disease on radiological imaging (x-ray, MRI, CT Scan).

So what is degenerative disc disease and what does it mean to be ‘degenerative’? Degenerative disc disease is when the cushioning between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine dries out and becomes less elastic with age. This cushioning is what is known as the ‘disc’. The word degenerative means that the drying out of the this disc is irreversible and likely to progress with age.

So is this the cause of your neck or back pain? It is unlikely that it is, despite how commonly this diagnosis is made. Research has shown no consistent connection between degenerative disc disease on imaging and the type of pain the patient experiences. Many causes of neck and back pain can only be diagnosed by a doctor well trained in the musculoskeletal system who is able to perform a comprehensive physical exam. Many causes of neck pain such as muscle strains, tendonitis, and trigger points do not show up on radiological imaging. Going to a back pain specialist can help avoid a misdiagnosis and potentially unnecessary surgery.

We recommend you see a doctor trained in interventional pain before you ever consider having an operation for degenerative disc disease.

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