Degenerative Disc Disease Causes & Symptoms

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

What causes Degenerative Disc Disease and an Annular Tear?

The main causes of degenerative disc disease results from repetitive motion, trauma to the spine and aging.  Once the degeneration cascade begins, and the outer annulus layers of the disc may tear and expose the spinal nerve and exiting nerve to the inner nucleus pulposus. The disc has begun to loose its fluid and, like a dry sponge, the disc can develop micro tears in the outer layer, called the annulus. The fluid from the inner nucleus leaks out through the outer annulus irritating the nerve fibers in the annulus. The irritated nerve fibers and surrounding spinal nerve or exiting nerves can cause pain perceived in a patient’s back or buttocks and thigh if in the lumbar region or neck, shoulders and arms if in the cervical region.


It is believed that nucleus pulposus can irritate the nerves and thus produce a great deal of pain. If the annular tear becomes large enough, the disc may protrude, extrude or herniate through the tear resulting in a bulging or herniated disc. Annular tears can be diagnosed with a history of pain and can be observed on an MRI as a white, high intensity zone on the posterior disc. Discogenic pain is the term used to describe pain resulting from annular tears.

What are the Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease and An Annular Tear?

When degenerative disc disease and annular tears become prevalent, the following symptoms are associated with this condition:

  • Pain in the area of the tear in the low back. This pain can travel into the buttocks and thighs not usually past the patient’s knees.
  • Numbness and or tightness can be related to disc tears or bulging and herniated disc. If the disc bulge, extrudes or herniates into the spinal canal and compresses the spinal nerves, the patient can experience numbness in the arms or legs.
  • Weakness is a commonly associated symptom resulting from a spinal nerve being compressed. The patient experiences weakness in their arm and loses their hand grip or weakness in the legs that causes them to buckle.
  • Tingling is commonly found in patient’s hands or feet when experiencing degenerative disc disease, annular tears or herniated disc.

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