Degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease, but rather describes the gradual degeneration of intervertebral discs. The spine is composed of 24 vertebrae, which are separated by discs that allow the spine to flex, bend, and twist.
DDD (Degenerative Disc Disease) is a common cause of back pain, especially as you get older. The discs that cushion the vertebrae – the long stack of bones in your spine – begin to dry out. Discs can also get damaged from normal wear and tear or an injury.
The spine starts degenerating somewhere between the ages of 20 and 25. It takes a long time for spinal discs to wear down on their own. Normal aging isn’t the only cause of disc degeneration.
As people age, repeated daily stresses on the spine and occasional injuries, including minor, unnoticed ones, can damage the discs in the back. Changes include:
When the vertebrae have less padding between them, the spine becomes less stable.
Every patient is different and it is important to realize that not everyone develops symptoms as a result of degenerative disc disease. When the condition becomes painful or symptomatic, it can cause several different symptoms due to the compression of the nerve roots. Depending on the location of degenerative disc, it could cause back pain, radiating leg pain, neck pain, and radiating arm pain. As the discs between the intervertebral bodies start to wear out, the entire lumbar spine becomes less flexible resulting in back pain and stiffness.
Diagnosis of DDD begins with a review of the patient’s history, a physical examination, and a review of treatment history – i.e. how the patient responded to medications and non-surgical treatments for their symptoms. The doctor may request diagnostic medical imaging. A diagnostic procedure known as discography may also be performed.