Degenerative Spine - Disc Disease

Degenerative spine/disc disease (DDD) involves degeneration of the discs, ligaments, and joints of your spine. Everyone experiences some change as we get older, but it becomes a concern when the symptoms interfere with your quality of life. It is the most common of all spine disorders.

DDD can occur anywhere in your spine, but it is most common in the cervical spine (neck) and the lumbar spine (lower back). It can also cause pain, numbness, or weakness in your arms or legs. Risk factors for degenerative spine/disc disease include increased age, obesity, lack of exercise, trauma, family history, osteoporosis, and smoking.

To diagnose degenerative spine/disc disease, Mount Sinai Health System doctors conduct a thorough physical examination. We may also order a diagnostic imaging test such as a magnetic resonance imaging, X-ray, or computed tomography scan. Our goal is to determine how quickly we need to react. Weakness is usually a sign of urgency while we can treat pain and numbness with more conservative measures.

While some spinal degeneration occurs with normal aging, it does not always cause symptoms. The best way to prevent symptoms is to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle, perform weight-bearing exercises to maintain strong bones, and avoid smoking. 

Treatment Options

Usually, pain medications, steroids, and physical therapy can relieve your symptoms. If this does not work, we may refer you to a nonsurgical pain management specialist who may be able to offer special injections. Sometimes surgery is necessary. Depending on your individual situation and health, we use either a minimally invasive approach or a more traditional ‘open’ procedure. We perform these types of surgery:

  • Diskectomy involves removing the “bulging” material that is pushing on your nerve or spinal cord. We can perform a diskectomy through either "open" surgery or a minimally invasive procedure.
  • Disc replacement requires us to replacetheinjured, degenerated disc material with a man-made disc to provide support. Artificial disc replacement is not appropriate for every patient.
  • Fusion helps us stabilize the bones of your spine (vertebrae) that are structurally weak (unstable) or have too much abnormal motion. We do this by implanting titanium rods and screws into your spine. We can use either "open" surgery or a minimally invasive procedure, depending on your needs.
  • Laminectomy means removing the bone, ligament, or disc material that is pressing on your nerves. We can do this procedure through either "open" surgery or a minimally invasive procedure.
  • Minimally invasive diskectomy/fusion involvesmakingsmaller incisions than traditional "open" surgery. This means a shorter hospital stay, less postoperative pain, and a quicker recovery. A minimally invasive diskectomy or fusion is not appropriate for every patient.
  • Spinal cord stimulation means stimulating the spinal cord with electrical current to treat pain. This approachis usually appropriate only if one of the other procedures is not suitable.

We are conducting research to understand how and why DDD develops. Our goal is to be able to treat these changes early on, at the molecular level, to prevent or reverse this disease.

Meet Our Staff

If you are suffering from degenerative spine/disc disease and would like to speak with one of our experts, please call:

Tanvir Choudhri, MD, 212-241-8560

Konstantinos Margetis, MD, PhD, 212-241-3469

Jeremy Steinberger, MD, 212-636-3781

Nirit Weiss, MD, 212-241-6820

Hongyan Zou, MD, PhD, 212-241-8628