What is Degenerative Disc Disease

Disc Degeneration over time

Spinal disc degeneration, also known as degenerative disc disease, is not really a disease. Rather, it refers to changes in the spinal discs as a result of chronic wear and tear, injury, or natural aging that occurs over a long period of time. These changes include loss of fluid in the discs (a condition called disc desiccation), tears of the disc annulus (the outer layer of the disc), and growth of nerve fibers in the damaged discs.

Degenerative disc disease is more commonly found in the lower back (lumbar region of the spine) and the neck (cervical region of the spine), but may also occur in any other area of the spine. The human spine is comprised of alternating vertebrae and discs which act as cushions with most of the pressure and stress of everyday movements being absorbed by them. Vertebral discs play a considerable role in our spinal anatomy. Without them, the vertebrae would be unable to absorb stresses, become unstable, and would eventually be unable to bend or flex.

Conditions Related to Disc Degeneration

Disc degeneration is the beginning of what has been termed by many "The Degenerative Cascade". It can lead to several other spinal conditions as the discs continue to deteriorate. Spinal Bone Spurs, Herniated Discs, and Spinal Stenosis are just a few of the more common conditions that may result from degenerative disc disease.

Severe degenerative disc disease can limit your range of motion, as well as cause pain from micro motion that occurs in your spine as the disc no longer performs its job properly. As your intervertebral discs lose water, flexibility, and height, your vertebrae lose their cushion and begin to rub against each other. It is, therefore, very important to identify the symptoms of degenerative disc disease and catch this condition early.

Healthy Disc In the Spinal Column
Figure 1a. Healthy Spinal Disc before the onset of degenerative disc disease
early stage of degenerative disc disease
Figure 1b. Spinal Disc after the onset of degenerative disc disease