Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a weakening of one or more intervertebral discs, which normally act as a cushion between the vertebrae.

  • Annulus Tears
    Degenerative disc disease generally begins when small tears appear in the intervertebral disc wall, called the annulus. These tears can cause pain.
  • Annulus Heals
    The tears heal, creating scar tissue that is not as strong as the original intervertebral disc wall. If the back is repeatedly injured, the process of tearing and scarring may continue, weakening the intervertebral disc wall.
  • Nucleus Weakens
    Over time, the nucleus of the disc becomes damaged and loses some of its water content. The water content is needed to keep the intervertebral disc functioning as a shock absorber for the spine.
  • Nucleus Collapses
    Unable to act as a cushion, the nucleus collapses. The vertebrae above and below the damaged intervertebral disc slide closer together. This improper alignment causes the facet joints to twist into an unnatural position.
  • Bone Spurs Form
    In time this awkward positioning of the vertebrae may create bone spurs. If these spurs grow into the spinal canal, they may pinch the spinal cord and nerves.

This condition can develop as a natural part of the aging process, but it may also result from injury to the back.

The site of the injury may be painful. Some people experience pain, numbness or tingling in the legs. Strong pain tends to come and go. Bending, twisting and sitting may make the pain worse. Lying down relieves pressure on the spine.

Often degenerative disc disease can be successfully treated without surgery.  Physical therapy, chiropractic treatments, or anti-inflammatory medications may provide relief of these troubling symptoms.  Surgery may be recommended if conservative treatment options do not provide relief within three months.  There are many surgical options depending on the severity of degenerative disc disease.

This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent decision about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient. Always consult your doctor about your back problem or medical conditions. Life Spine does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.