Is There a Cure for Degenerative Disc Disease? - Part 2

August 30, 2023

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition that affects the intervertebral discs in the spine. Discs act as cushions between the vertebrae, providing support, flexibility, and shock absorption. In an earlier blog, we discussed DDD contributors, symptoms, conventional treatments, as well as surgical treatments. 


This month we would like to continue the discussion and provide information regarding emerging and experimental treatments, lifestyle modifications, how assistive devices can help and rehabilitation strategies. Finally, we will cover the different types of research for degenerative disc disease that are being actively pursued.


Emerging and experimental treatments 

Ongoing research aims to better understand underlying causes, develop more effective treatments, and explore potential preventive measures. 

Emerging and experimental treatments for degenerative disc disease include: 

  • Stem cell therapy: Stem cells have the potential to regenerate damaged tissues, including the intervertebral discs. Researchers are investigating the use of mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow to stimulate disc repair and regeneration. 
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy: PRP therapy involves injecting a concentrated solution of platelets derived from the patient’s own blood into the affected disc. Platelets contain growth factors that promote tissue healing and regeneration. 
  • Tissue engineering: Tissue engineering involves creating artificial or bioengineered disc replacements to restore the structure and function of degenerated discs. This approach typically involves combining biocompatible scaffolds with cells and growth factors to facilitate disc regeneration. 
  • Laser therapy: Laser decompression therapy is a very safe and effective treatment option to help decrease symptoms in the patient. It provides powerful pain relief through the generation of new cartilage and reduces inflammation and swelling around the disc and joints. 
  • Radiofrequency ablation for pain management: Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to stop nerves in the spine from sending pain signals to the brain. 
  • Regenerative medicine: Researchers are investigating various regenerative approaches to stimulate the regeneration and repair of degenerated discs. This includes the use of stem cells, growth factors, and tissue engineering techniques to promote disc healing and restore their structure and function. 
  • Biomaterials and implants: Novel biomaterials and implants are being developed to replace or augment the degenerated discs. These materials aim to provide mechanical support, improve disc height and stability, and alleviate pain. Researchers are exploring the use of artificial discs, hydrogel-based scaffolds, and other innovative technologies. 
  • Biologics and molecular therapies: Biologic agents, such as growth factors, cytokines, and anti-inflammatory proteins, are being studied for their potential to slow down the degenerative processes in discs and promote tissue repair. These therapies aim to target specific molecular pathways involved in disc degeneration. 
  • Gene therapy: Gene-based approaches are being investigated to modulate the expression of genes involved in disc degeneration. By targeting specific genes responsible for disc degeneration, researchers aim to slow down or reverse the degenerative process. 
  • It’s worth noting that while these research areas hold promise, translating these findings into clinical applications may take time. It is important to consult with healthcare professionals to explore the currently available treatment options for managing degenerative disc disease. 
  • Lifestyle modifications and alternative therapies 
  • Lifestyle modifications can help manage symptoms, reduce pain, and improve overall quality of life. Here are some lifestyle modifications that may be beneficial for individuals with degenerative disc disease: 
  • Exercise: Low-impact exercises can promote flexibility, strength, and stability of the spine. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Excess body weight can put additional stress on the spine. 
  • Practice good posture: Maintain proper posture while sitting, standing, and lifting heavy objects. Modify daily activities: Be mindful of activities that may aggravate your symptoms and modify them accordingly. 
  • Use proper body mechanics: When lifting heavy objects, bend at the knees and hips while keeping your back straight. Avoid twisting motions and distribute the weight evenly. 
  • Ergonomic modifications: Adjust the height of your desk and chair, use a supportive chair with good lumbar support, and position your computer monitor at eye level to maintain proper posture. Quit smoking: If you smoke, you should quit in order to slow down the degenerative process and improve overall spinal health. 
  • Practice stress management: Chronic stress can worsen pain and discomfort associated with degenerative disc disease. Explore stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or engaging in hobbies and activities that promote relaxation. 
  • Physical therapy: Consider working with a physical therapist who specializes in spine-related conditions. 
  • Acupuncture: By targeting specific points along “meridians,” which correspond to nerve pathways affected by a particular disc, acupuncture may stimulate healing by increasing blood flow. 
  • Acupuncture may also prompt the body to release endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. Chiropractic treatment: Can reduce inflammation in the spinal tissues, improve the range of motion of the spine, and relieve muscle tension. Treatments can also reduce pressure on the spine, specifically the spinal discs, to promote healing. 
  • Coping with degenerative disc disease 
  • Psychological support cannot cure the condition, but it can play a crucial role in helping individuals cope with the challenges and maintain a positive outlook. These supports should be seen as a complementary approach alongside medical treatments. Psychological supports include: 
  • Education and understanding: Understanding the condition can help alleviate anxiety and uncertainty and empower you to make informed decisions about your healthcare. 
  • Emotional support: Mental health professionals can offer a safe space to express your emotions, validate your experiences, and provide guidance on managing emotional distress. 
  • Coping strategies: Psychological support can equip you with coping strategies that include relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help change negative thought patterns and improve coping skills. 
  • Pain management: Techniques such as biofeedback, hypnosis, or guided imagery may help reduce pain perception and improve overall well-being. 
  • Lifestyle adjustments: Develop strategies for maintaining a healthy sleep routine, incorporating regular exercise within your limitations, and adopting ergonomic practices at work or home. 
  • Supportive counseling: Connect with others who are also dealing with degenerative disc disease. 
  • Motivation and goal-setting: Set realistic goals and develop a plan to achieve them despite the limitations imposed by DDD. Stay motivated, maintain a positive mindset, and focus on the aspects of life that are within your control. 
  • Assistive devices and adaptations 
  • While ergonomic aids and assistive devices cannot cure DDD, they can help alleviate discomfort and provide support. Options include: 
  • Lumbar support cushions: Cushions designed to provide support to the lower back, promoting proper spinal alignment and reducing strain on the discs. 
  • Ergonomic chairs: Have adjustable features, such as lumbar support, seat height, and armrests, can help maintain a neutral posture and reduce stress on the spine. 
  • Standing desks: Allows you to alternate between sitting and standing positions, relieving pressure on the discs and promoting better circulation. 
  • Assistive devices for lifting: Back braces, lifting belts, or mechanical lifting aids can provide extra support and reduce the strain on your back. 
  • Ergonomic keyboards and mice: Promote a more natural hand and wrist position, reducing the risk of repetitive strain injuries and minimizing discomfort while typing or using a computer. 
  • Reacher/grabber tools: Have extended handles and gripping mechanisms at the end, allowing you to pick up objects from the floor or high shelves without bending or reaching too far. 
  • Walking aids: Provide stability and support, reducing stress on the spine. 
  • Supportive care and rehabilitation 
  • There are several pain management and rehabilitation strategies that can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. Here are some common approaches: 
  • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with DDD. 
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can design a customized exercise program to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine and improve flexibility. 
  • Epidural steroid injections: Injections of corticosteroids into the epidural space around the affected spinal nerves can provide temporary pain relief by reducing inflammation and swelling. 
  • Heat and cold therapy: Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help relieve pain and relax muscles. 
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): TENS therapy involves using a small device that delivers mild electrical impulses to the affected area. These impulses can help disrupt pain signals and provide relief. 

Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized pain management and rehabilitation plan for degenerative disc disease.

Importance of individualized treatment plans 

If you are experiencing symptoms and feel you may be at risk for developing degenerative disc disease, please contact a physician to schedule a consultation. 

Not all patients will receive the same diagnosis or need the same treatment; it is extremely important to seek professional advice so your physician can develop an individualized treatment plan. 

To find a physician near you, please use the following link. Locate a surgeon near you today.