Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease
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Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease

What is cervical degenerative disc disease? Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and recovery are all included in this article. DDD

What is Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?

Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease or DDD of the cervical spine is fairly common among aging adults.  However it is more than just common neck pain, DDD can be debilitating in some cases.  The discs found in the spine can lose height and cause nerve impingement or bone and joint inflammation.  In any case, it can cause severe pain. 

The Cervical discs separate your seven cervical vertebrae found in the neck.  The discs can be thought of as cushions as well as stabilizers.  That is the discs help the neck to move from side to side and front to back in a smooth motion.  The discs also help to stabilize the neck.  In DDD the neck becomes less flexible and there may be pain or stiffness felt. 

Diagnosis

Many people with DDD are not even aware they have it.  They just think they have a sore or stiff neck.  Many people are diagnosed when they are being evaluated for another problem. 

  • Medical History:  The doctor will ask questions about the symptoms and severity of the problem, as well as anything that the patient may have tried to alleviate the symptoms.
  • Examination: The doctor will do a physical examination looking for any movements that cause pain or any limited movements due to stiffness. 
  • Diagnostic Tests: X-rays, MRI, and possibly CT scans may be used to visualize the vertebrae and discs and find the exact disc that is causing the pain. 

Treatment

Sometimes surgery is required to treat DDD, but there are other alternatives that the doctor will want to try before performing surgery.  One line of treatment would be over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen.  If the over-the-counter medications don't work, the doctor may choose to prescribe a narcotic painkiller or steroids to help reduce inflammation and pain. 

Physical therapy is a great option for those people who choose to stay away from medications.  The physical therapist may use hot/cold therapy as well as gentle massage to help reduce the pain or stiffness.  Generally physical therapy would also include exercises to increase range of motion as well as maintain the natural curvature of the spine. 

If medication and physical therapy fail to resolve the pain and/or stiffness, surgery may be necessary.  The typical surgical procedure for Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).  In this procedure the degenerating or bulging disc is removed, then the adjacent vertebrae are fused together.  There are other surgical options, but this is the most common one. 

Recovery

Fortunately, for most people the neck pain or stiffness comes and goes; it is not permanent and it usually can be alleviated.  Part of avoiding and recovering from Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is taking care of your body in general.  Eating right, exercising, not smoking as well as maintaining good posture is important.  Take good care of your neck. 

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