Degenerative Disc Disease

FAQs on Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment in Oklahoma


Nearly every person has some type of wear-and-tear to the spinal disc as he/she ages. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition in which pain occurs from a damaged disc. The symptoms include back pain and spinal stiffness.


What are spinal discs?


Between each irregular-shaped vertebra is an intervertebral disc. These quarter-sized structures act as shock absorbers between the spine bones. The inner gel-like core is called the nucleus pulposus, and it is filled with water and other substances.


The firm, tough outer layers, which are collectively called the annulus fibrosus, protect the inner contents of the disc. The outer layer contains nerves, so tears in the disc can be painful. When the gel-like material seeps through a crack or tear, proteins may cause the nerves and tissues to become irritated and painful.


What causes degenerative disc disease?


Once a disc is injured, it cannot repair itself. Degenerative disc disease occurs from overuse of the spine, back strain, or repetitive spinal injury. Over time, the discs loose water content, which contributes to DDD. In addition, age and disc wearing will cause DDD to occur.


What are the common symptoms of DDD?


The symptoms vary from person-to-person, but common symptoms include:


  • Pain that gets worse with lifting, bending, or twisting.


  • Pain with sitting (discs of lower back have 3 times more load when sitting than when standing).


  • Pain that affects the buttocks, low back, thighs, or neck, depending on which nerves are affected by DDD.


  • Weakness or numbness of the buttock or leg, which indicates nerve damage.


What causes degenerative disc disease?


Factors that may cause or contribute to DDD include:


  • Disc drying – Each disc has 80% water content. As a person ages, the disc dries out, so it cannot absorb shock any longer.


  • Injuries, which contribute to instability, soreness, and swelling.


  • Daily activities and sports may cause tears in the outer disc layers.


How is degenerative disc disease diagnosed?


The diagnosis of DDD is based on physical examination and medical history. In addition, the doctor will take x-rays and possibly order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The scan alone cannot confirm the presence of DDD.


How is degenerative disc disease treated?


Back pain is a major problem in America. Sometimes, a combination of treatment options is used. These include:


  • Physical therapy – The therapist uses strengthening and flexibility exercises to increase muscle strength and movement around the spine. Exercises also are used to increase blood flow to the back muscles and structures.


  • Medications – These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as anticonvulsants (gabapentin) which are used for nerve-related pain.


  • Surgery – This includes artificial disc replacement and spinal fusion.


  • Stem cell injections – Doctors are now using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to treat degenerative disc disease. Variation in the therapeutic efficacy of MCSs exists, but some studies show much success with this treatment option.


Does stem cell therapy work for treating DDD?


In a recent study, stem cells were implanted into rabbit subjects’ spinal discs. The results suggested that stem cells with hyaluronic acid scaffold led to disc regeneration. The study supports the use of stem cells in treating DDD.


Stem cell transplant is an effective and viable option. In a recent study involving animal subjects, researchers found a 24% increase in disc height after stem cells were transplanted to the spinal column. In all studies, the disc height index was increased significantly. According to the study authors, stem cell transplantation is a promising treatment option for humans.



  • Ahn J, Park EM, Kim BJ (2015). Transplantation of human Wharton’s jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells highly expressing TGFβ receptors in a rabbit model of disc degeneration. Stem Cell Res Ther, 6(190).
  • American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM). (2014, March 8). Stem cell transplant shows ‘landmark’ promise for treatment of degenerative disc disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 7, 2017 from