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Spine: Degenerative Disc Disease


Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) occurs in many people during the normal aging process, and is often referred to as “arthritis of the back.”

With age, the discs or “shock absorbers” located between the vertebral bodies lose their elasticity and may cause one vertebral body to collapse down onto another. This collapsed body may compress nerve roots or the spinal cord, causing back and/or leg pain.


  • Aching lower back pain
  • Stiffness in back
  • Radiating pain that descends into the legs
  • Pain is usually worse with activity or prolonged sitting or standing


  • Normal changes in disc during the natural aging process
  • Trauma (injury)
  • Repetitive lifting
  • Smoking, obesity and hereditary factors lead to advanced degeneration

Possible Treatment Options

Non Operative Treatment

Medications, physical therapy or spinal cortisone injections are indicated for pain relief. Surgery can be considered for those who do not improve.


This surgical procedure involves removing all or portions of the lamina, removing bone spurs and/or enlarging foramina to relieve pressure or compression on the nerve roots or spinal cord. This pressure is often the cause of the pain.

Decompression & Posterolateral Fusion

Often times, in addition to a decompression, your surgeon will perform an instrumented posterolateral fusion by inserting a series of screws and rods coupled with the placement of bone graft. This fusion provides increased spinal stability.

Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF)

The surgical approach is from the front of the abdomen. Once the exposure is made, surgical instruments are used to remove the disc material causing the nerve compression. Once this material is removed, an interbody cage or bone spacer is placed at the disc site filled with bone graft. The vertebral bodies above and below are frequently put under compression to aid in the subsequent spinal fusion.

Posterior Transforaminal Interbody Fusion

The same procedure as the ALIF but the approach and exposure are performed from the back. Just as in an ALIF, the disc material is removed and an interbody device is inserted. Compression through the use of pedicle screws is frequently achieved to aid in fusion.

Disc Replacement

This is the removal of the spinal disc, and replacement with an artificial prosthesis.

For more information on Degenerative Disc Disease, visit UnderstandSpineSurgery.com.

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