Diagnosing degenerative disc disease
Early diagnosis of degenerative disc disease allows you to make lifestyle improvements such as weight loss, workplace modifications or increased exercise to slow disease progression.
Following a thorough history, physical and neurological exam, Ohio State Spine Care specialists may order imaging and other diagnostic tests to gather additional information and confirm a diagnosis:
- X-rays of the spine
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Electromyography (EMG) and electrophysiological testing
Many people have more than one degenerative disc. Our pain management specialists can identify the disc most associated with pain using a test called a discogram. Under local anesthetic, you receive a sterile fluid injected into the discs most likely to be responsible for your pain. Your response to the sensation within each disc and the information generated from the test help us identify which disc or discs need further treatment.
Degenerative disc disease treatment
Ohio State offers treatments ranging from physical therapy to the most complex neck and spine surgeries. Our physicians, therapists and other caregivers provide you with options that increase mobility and reduce pain. The vast majority of people who come to Ohio State Spine Care don’t require surgery.
One of Ohio State’s strengths is our physical therapy program, with therapists who specialize in complex, degenerative spine conditions. Following an examination of posture, neck and back mobility, strength and flexibility, our physical therapists customize a plan for you.
We take into account any impairments or functional limitations you have. Typically, you’ll work one-on-one with a therapist on pain-relieving movement strategies and on improvements in strength and flexibility.
Additional nonsurgical treatments include:
- Education on back care, such as ways to avoid excessive bending forward or repetitive twisting and bending. In addition, our therapists give recommendations on how to make your work and home environment healthier for your spine
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit—a form of electrical stimulation that provides short-term pain relief
- Spine orthobiologics, also known as stem cell therapy, activates the body’s natural healing process through injections of the body’s own healthy cells into the injured area to stimulate tissue regeneration and natural healing
- Real-time ultrasound imaging (RUSI) of movement in the spine area to retrain the deep stabilizing musculature of your spine (a highly researched, evidence-based intervention)
- Oral anti-inflammatory medications and/or steroid spine injections
- Acupuncture (provided at Ohio State Spine Care) or dry needling for pain control through Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Medicine
- Weight loss counseling, with an emphasis on healthier eating and exercise to ease pressure on the spine
- Pilates, yoga and aquatic therapy to strengthen back muscles
If you’re not responding well to these treatments, our spine experts are skilled in intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET), which uses radiofrequency energy from a heat probe to shrink the disc without harming it.
In rare situations, we may recommend surgery for a spinal fusion if you have chronic symptoms that have not responded to treatment. At Ohio State, we use the least-invasive surgery possible to fuse vertebrae together and restore stability to the spinal column.