Can Degenerative Disc Disease Go Away on Its Own?

Question: Can degenerative disc disease ever go away on its own—without any type of treatment? I'm 56, and I've just been diagnosed with DDD. Is there any chance this disease will ever completely go away, or is it a lifelong condition?
—Springfield, MA

Answer: Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for degenerative disc disease (DDD), and once you're diagnosed with DDD, it's typically a lifelong journey of learning to live with back pain, neck pain, or other symptoms. Once your discs begin to degenerate, you can't really reverse the process.

But the good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to treat degenerative disc disease—and they don't involve surgery.

Many DDD symptoms can be treated by making a few small lifestyle changes, including choosing to not smoke and exercising more. Below are some common treatments for degenerative disc disease.

A healthy diet: Incorporating healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, beans, and healthy fats (eg, olive oil), can help you maintain a normal weight. Being overweight can put extra pressure on your spine, which can lead to increased back pain. To get started on a nutritious meal plan, work with a registered dietitian to discuss the best foods to include in your diet.

Exercise: A regular, gentle exercise routine that incorporates light aerobic, strengthening, and flexibility exercises can help you manage degenerative disc disease symptoms. Work with a personal trainer who has experience helping people with spine conditions. He or she can show you specific exercises that can help relieve your pain and other symptoms.

Medications: Certain over-the counter medications, such as acetaminophen (eg, Tylenol), can help provide pain relief, while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce both pain and inflammation. However, there are several prescription medications, such as anti-depressants and muscle relaxants, which can help you cope with the pain and other symptoms of DDD. Talk to your doctor to see whether taking medications to control your DDD symptoms is an option for you.

Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve your overall strength, flexibility, and range of motion. He or she can develop a detailed, personalized physical therapy program for you. Regular physical therapy sessions will teach you about proper body mechanics, good posture, and how to avoid positions that cause pain.

Surgery for DDD is usually only considered as a last resort or if your DDD is progressively getting worse. Regardless of whether you need surgery, discuss your treatments options with your doctor. You may need to incorporate a variety of treatments for maximum benefits.

Although degenerative disc disease won't ever completely go away on its own, there are many things you can do to prevent DDD symptoms from getting worse.

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