Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease

One of the most common causes of low back pain, degenerative disc disease is frequently misdiagnosed and mistreated. Even worse, it is misunderstood by patients. Sufferers who have been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease often picture a mobility-threatening condition that will become progressively more serious. However, low back pain sufferers can be reassured that with low back pain treatment, much of their discomfort will improve over time.


Part of the confusion surrounding degenerative disc disease comes from the variable symptoms and severity of the condition. While some disc degeneration is a natural part of the body aging, the low back pain that accompanies this condition varies greatly from person to person.

At birth, discs in the spine are made of approximately 80 percent water, making them exceptionally spongy to absorb the impact of the body during physical activity. As the body ages, this amount of water continually decreases and reduces the so-called shock absorbers of the back. In addition to this loss of fluid, the proteins of the discs change over time while many discs experience tears to the outer materials. Each of these situations can lead to less-than-perfect discs and discomfort.

Most feelings of back pain related to degenerative disc disease are the result of either a disc space collapse or end plate corrosion. The cartilaginous end plate contains the nutrition for the disc. When this end plate becomes eroded or collapses, the disc connected to the nutrition begins to degenerate.

degenerative disc disease xray


Most pain associated with degenerative disc disease remains or low or may even disappear between activity-induced flare ups. For example, many sufferers notice that their pain flares up when they spend extended periods of time sitting in one position, but it improves when they begin standing or walking. Activities such as bending, lifting, and twisting can cause low back pain and spasms related to degenerative disc disease. However, many pain sufferers actually feel better walking and running than they do when they are sitting or standing still for long periods of time.

Healthy Spine
In addition to low back pain, many patients with this condition experience leg pain, numbness, and tingling sensations because nerves can become pinched or inflamed around the discs.


A back pain doctor is able to provide pain relief through a combination of pain medications, epidural injections and other modalities. Occasionally a back pain doctor will also suggest using an ultrasound to warm the painful area or a therapeutic massage to increase blood flow and reduce muscle stiffness.

In addition to these medical actions taken to improve the effects of degenerative disc disease, we may also suggest that sufferers take measures to improve their overall health. Increasing physical exercise, quitting smoking, and losing weight have all been shown to decrease back pain and improve the quality of life. Other suggestions, such as learning proper lifting techniques and purchasing ergonomic furniture or supportive footwear, can improve a patient’s posture during long periods of sitting or standing, thereby providing back pain relief.