Degenerative Disc Disease

July 15, 2015 | Conditions
degenerative disc disease

Our spinal vertebrae and spinal cord are protected by fibrocartilaginous discs that act as shock absorbers, helping our spines move, flex and support our weight. Picture a jelly donut with a Kevlar-like outer shell, the annulus, filled with a fibrous marmalade, the pulposus. Due to time, use, and injury, the annulus outer layer can develop tiny tears.

In our youth, our blood supply is good enough to provide the nutrients necessary to repair those tiny tears. As we age, fewer nutrients are delivered to the disc, slowing healing. The tears become scar tissue, which weakens the outer wall of the disc. These weak points, in turn, allow for more and larger tears, leading to further weakness. As this cycle continues, disc degeneration increases, leading to pressure on the vertebrae, nerves and spinal cord. Further weakness and tearing can result in the pulposus leaking out, leading to a Herniated Disc.

Even if the pulposus does not extrude through the tears, the water in the disc can escape, causing the disc to collapse. When spinal vertebrae are too close together they can twist, rub or scrape, creating bone spurs. As they grow, these bone spurs may pinch the spinal cord and nerves, leading to debilitating pain and a condition known as Spinal Stenosis.

Vertebral Disc Degeneration at a Glance

  • Tears appear in the disc wall
  • Scarring leads to weakening of the disc wall
  • Weakening leads to further tearing
  • Poorly healed tears allow the pulposus to leak
  • The disc collapses, causing the discs to slide closer together
  • Vertebrae may twist and scrape
  • Bone spurs develop

Early indicators of Degenerative Disc Disease include pain in the lower back, as well as pain in the hips, buttocks, neck and limbs. This pain may present as a chronic, dull ache or a sharp pain, especially when moving or flexing the spine.

Treating Degenerative Disc Disease

Bending, twisting or sitting can increase the pain associated with Degenerative Disc Disease. Lying down can temporarily relieve the pain, but no amount of rest will heal the injury or restore the disc. If disc degeneration progresses to a certain point, an orthopedist may recommend spinal fusion surgery. Often described as a “permanent solution” to lower back pain, fusion surgery has significant risks. The first risk is the process itself. Fusion surgery is a highly invasive procedure that begins with the surgeon removing the roof of bone overlying the spinal canal, then inserting screws and bars into the spine to permanently bond at least two vertebrae together.

Spinal Fusion Surgery Risks include:

  • Long hospital stays
  • Extended recovery time
  • Painful physical therapy
  • Further degeneration in other discs
  • Limited pain relief and, potentially, increased pain
  • Stiffness, weakness and reduced quality of life


While fusion surgery is certainly permanent, for many patients, it is not a solution at all.


Non-Surgical Solutions to Degenerative Disc Disease

The best way to stop the pain and progression of Degenerative Disc Disease is to repair the annulus (outer layer) of the disc. Even major surgery such as spinal fusion fails to repair the root cause of the condition. However, there are two innovative, non-surgical solutions for Degenerative Disc Disease that have proven to not only relieve pain but also repair the damaged cells caused by disc degeneration.

Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)

Patients interested in a safe, proven and natural way to restore damaged joints, including spinal vertebrae and discs, should consider Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy. PRP uses concentrated blood platelets, taken directly from the patient, to activate and enhance the body’s own healing capacity. Read more…

Stem Cell Treatment

While this treatment is new to many patients, physicians have been using Stem Cell Therapy to successfully treat patients with Degenerative Disc Disease and other joint pain with stem cells for many years now. Somatic (adult) stem cells have been proven to regrow cells that have been damaged by injury, aging or wear and tear. Safe and effective, stem cell treatment comes with none of the potential side-effects of highly invasive surgeries including spinal fusion surgery. Read more…

To learn more about how PRP or Stem Cell Treatment could offer long-term relief for your lower back pain, fill out the form below to schedule your appointment with Dr. Skaliy today.

About the Author

Dr. Michael Skaliy

Throughout his career Dr. Michael Skaliy has felt that medicine is a rapidly changing field and he’s continued to stay up to date to bring the latest cutting edge therapies into his practice. Most recently, he introduced stem cell therapy and minimally invasive same day spine surgery, which is done through a small device the size of a pencil.

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