Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease Overview Degenerative Disc Disease Causes & Symptoms Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosis & Treaments

What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back and neck pain, and also one of the most misunderstood. This degenerative condition in the lumbar spine or lower back refers to a condition where one or more of your discs becomes dehydrated and deteriorated and begins to cause low back pain. In some people, this condition can be genetically related, but in most, it is related to multiple factors.  Your spinal discs act as shock absorbers between the bones in your spine called vertebrae.  vertebrae.  Your disc and spine work together to help you turn, twist, bend and stay flexible.  As you get older, the disc can show signs of wear and tear. They begin to break down and may not work as well.


Our vertebrae and discs can wear down and develop micro-tears in the outer wall of the disc called the annulus. Sometimes these conditions can also result from a trauma such as an accident or excessive lifting of heavy objects.  The discs in our spine do not have a blood supply, so when they do sustain a traumatic injury, they do not repair themselves. Sometimes insignificant insult or damage to the disc can start a degenerative cascade that begins to wear out the disc. Degenerative disc disease is relatively common and estimated to affect 30% of people 30-55 years of age. Not all people with degenerative disc disease will suffer from pain or be diagnosed. People 60 years of age are expected to have some level of disc degeneration and usually have abnormal findings on an MRI scan.

When we are young, our spinal discs contain water.  Over time, they get thinner and lose water.  The loss of water means the function of the cushioning and padding effect of the spine are diminished between the vertebrae.  This drying out of the disc is part of the degenerative disc disease.  Also, when the disc drys out, it can begin to crack under the everyday movements and minor injuries over the years.  Cracks can lead to a torn disc which if near to a spinal nerve can become painful.  This pain is referred to as discogenic disc pain or discogenic back pain.  The disc, as a result of tears, and cracks can also begin to bulge or slip out of place, which is called a herniated disc.


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