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4 Things You Need to Know About Degenerative Disc Disease

Published June 28, 2017    
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Wondering whether degenerative disc disease could be responsible for your back pain, loss of flexibility, or other spinal issues? We are here to help you understand who suffers from degenerative disc disease, what that means, and what you can do about it. 

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Technically, degenerative disc disease isn’t a single discrete illness — it’s a term which describes symptoms arising from the natural degeneration of spinal discs with age. As you age, your spinal discs grow less flexible, offer less padding, and become worn. In some people, these changes bring serious symptoms or lead to various secondary ailments.

Thus, degenerative disc disease can refer to both general problems of flexibility and pain in the back, or to specific issues such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, or herniated discs. All of these can put pressure on your nerves and spinal cord, resulting in pain, reduced nerve function and a host of other problems.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

In pain, clutching his back due to DDD.

Like many problems originating in the back, it can be difficult to pin down a specific list of symptoms for degenerative disc disease. If a herniated disc puts pressure on the right nerves, for example, it can cause numbness or weakness anywhere from the spine to your furthest extremities. Similarly, you can experience pain that seems to originate from anywhere in your body, but tracks back to degenerative disc disease.

Disc Herniation

In many cases, degenerative disc disease is used to describe herniated discs and associated secondary problems. A herniated disc is an abnormal bulge or break of the spinal disc. Your spinal discs are rubbery pads for your vertebrae, made up of a tough exterior and a softer interior. Disc herniation occurs when an injury or wear on the tougher exterior allows some of that softer interior material to push out. This can result in no symptoms at all in some people, or extreme pain in others.

As you age, your discs grow more rigid and less flexible, making it likelier that they’ll tear and herniate. You’re also more likely to experience disc herniation if you’re already in poor physical condition, due to obesity, smoking, hard labor, etc. Acute damage from a fall or other trauma can similarly set off the process that results in disc herniation and hastens the development of degenerative disc disease.

Living with Degenerative Disc Disease

The specific treatment for degenerative disc disease will largely depend upon two factors: specific ailments which arise as a result, requiring tailored treatments and general spinal health. The former is something your doctor will identify and treat, but the latter will depend on good living habits and maintaining a thorough understanding of your back.

By understanding what’s happening to your back as you age and as your degenerative disc disease progresses, you’ll be better able to make decisions which will minimize your symptoms, slow the development of secondary ailments and maintain your general health. 

Last change: January 24, 2019