Degenerative disc disease is relatively common in aging adults, and, as a reassurance, it seldom requires surgery. When medical attention is needed, the majority of patients respond well to non-surgical forms of treatment, and recovery occurs in about six weeks.
During your recovery period, your doctor may recommend rest or restricted activity. You may need bed rest for a few days to take the pressure off of your nerves—but you won’t be in bed for more than a few days. Extended bed rest is no longer recommended for back pain. Mild activity is preferred for better healing, and your doctor may suggest walking, bicycling, or swimming. To help you heal, you may be asked to wear a brace for back support.
Medications may be prescribed (below).
Anti-inflammatory agents reduce swelling while relieving pain.
Opioid pain relievers may be prescribed for intense but short-lived pain (acute pain).
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) agents are available over-the-counter, but it is wise to discuss NSAID use with your doctor as they have a risk of stomach bleeding and other side effects.
Medications Used to Treat the Pain of DDD
You may also consider going to a physical therapist, chiropractor, or acupuncturist.
If needed, your doctor will refer you to a physical therapist. Physical therapy includes passive treatments such as cold or heat, deep tissue massage, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound. These treatments help prepare you for therapeutic exercise—the active part of physical therapy.
Spinal manipulation by a chiropractor who uses gentle adjustments to help restore spinal function may be better than medication.
Acupuncture can control pain, but it should be combined with other treatments, like exercise.
Your pain and other symptoms may not be treated adequately with non-surgical treatments. In that case, your doctor may suggest spine surgery.
The type of spine surgery you have is dependent on where in your spine you have degenerative disc disease. Your surgeon will fully explain your options; please ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand what is being recommended.
You should also consider getting a second opinion on spine surgery. This is a very important decision, and you want to make sure you're approaching it with all the facts.
Learn more about degenerative disc disease surgery options in our focused article on that topic.