5 Nonsurgical Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease

Feb 21, 2023

It’s no secret that your body changes as you move through life. Your joints begin to wear down with years of use, and the joints of your spine are no different. 

In fact, about 40% of adults over age 40 have some level of spinal disc degeneration, and it gets increasingly common with age.

Degenerative disc disease is the medical term for this process, and it’s a common condition that develops when the discs in your spine begin to break down and wear out. It often causes back pain, numbness, and restricted mobility.

Fortunately, there are several nonsurgical treatment options that can help alleviate your pain and discomfort. And our team at Cascade Orthopaedics is here to help you find the treatment that’s right for you.

Nonsurgical treatments to try for degenerative disc disease

Have you been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease recently? Here are five nonsurgical treatments to consider.


Inflammation is the main cause of degenerative disc disease pain. If you’re diagnosed with the condition, we generally start by recommending over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs).

Combined with rest and activity modification, you might find that medication is enough to relieve your symptoms. We may also recommend using a medical device to temporarily take pressure off painful nerve roots. For example, wearing a soft collar can add support and alleviate pain from cervical disc degeneration.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy involves guided exercises that are tailored to your needs. When used to treat degenerative disc disease, physical therapy can help improve your flexibility, strength, and spinal mobility. 

In conjunction with your doctor, the physical therapist evaluates your condition, then uses a variety of techniques, such as stretching, strengthening exercises, and manual therapy to help alleviate pain and improve function.

Massage therapy

Massage therapy doesn’t just feel good — it also reduces muscle tension and improves circulation. If you have degenerative disc disease, these benefits can help alleviate pain and enhance your mobility.

Depending on your condition, the massage therapist may use techniques such as Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, or trigger point therapy to restore balance, reduce muscle spasms, and improve flexibility.

Spinal injections

If noninvasive treatment doesn’t offer adequate relief, you may want to consider spinal injections. Spinal injections, including epidural injections, target pain and inflammation at the source.

Our pain management specialists inject corticosteroids and/or local anesthetics into painful discs to reduce inflammation and pain in your spine. Pain relief may last several weeks, and many people find injections help them get more benefit from physical therapy and other treatments.

Intradiscal electrothermal therapy

Intradiscal electrothermal therapy is an innovative, minimally invasive procedure designed for chronic lower back pain. It may be a good option if you’ve tried other conservative treatments but pain still interferes with your everyday life.

In this procedure, we insert a needle into a specific spinal disc, then send a catheter through it. The catheter applies heat to the disc, strengthening the collagen fibers that hold the disc together and destroying excess nerve fibers to reduce pain sensations. 

When to consider surgery for degenerative disc disease

While nonsurgical treatments can offer significant relief from the symptoms of degenerative disc disease, they may not be appropriate for everyone. If you haven’t found adequate relief with conservative care, it might be time to consider surgery.

We usually recommend discectomy or spinal fusion surgery to address the underlying causes of your condition. Discectomy removes the damaged disc and replaces it with a new, synthetic disc. 

Spinal fusion is generally a last-resort treatment and involves removing the damaged disc and fusing your vertebrae together.

You don’t have to live with the pain of degenerative disc disease, and spine surgery isn’t your only treatment option. Find care that meets your needs at Cascade Orthopaedics in Auburn and Bonney Lake, Washington. Contact us to schedule your first appointment today.