Degenerative Disc Disease
What is degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease is a condition in which intervertebral (between the vertebrae) discs have become degraded in some way. This condition most commonly occurs in the high-motion areas of the neck and low back. Discs can become thinner, they can bulge or rupture or the material of the exterior of the disc (annulus) can deteriorate.
The name “degenerative disc disease” can be misleading, however. Degenerative disc disease is actually a condition, not a disease. As people age, they typically lose water content in their tissues, which reduces the elasticity of collagen throughout the body. As the discs in your spine are high in water content, this aging process can affect the core and surrounding fibers of the vertebral discs. To learn more about how this condition can be treated, read our page on artificial disc replacement.
Degenerative disc disease can contribute to spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column), osteoarthritis in the joints and spondylolisthesis (excessive slippage of vertebrae).
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What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
If you experience pain that flares up during physical activity and then recedes to low-grade pain or disappears after rest, you may have degenerative disc disease. Severe episodes of back or neck pain are also symptoms of degenerative disc disease. These episodes may last for days or months but will then return to a baseline of chronic pain for that person.
The degree of pain for people with degenerative disc disease is not consistent. Some will experience no pain or only mild discomfort while others will experience major periods of intense pain.
How does degenerative disc disease cause pain?
There are two primary ways that degenerative disc disease can cause pain:
Abnormal micro-motion occurs when the exterior material of the disc (the annulus) wears down, reducing its ability to cushion the day-to-day shocks that occur between vertebrae. While not as severe as a slipped vertebrae, abnormal micro-motion can cause muscle spasms and contribute to back pain.
Spinal discs contain a significant amount of protein. When the outer portion of the disc breaks down, this protein is released and may irritate surrounding nerves, causing inflammation. Pain due to inflammation may radiate into the buttocks and legs if the site of inflammation is located in the lower back (lumbar) region. If inflammation is present in the neck (cervical) area, pain may radiate into the shoulder, arms and sometimes the hands. Inflammation can also contribute to muscle spasms.
I think I have degenerative disc disease. What should I do?
If you think you have degenerative disc disease, your next step is a consultation with the doctors at Hunt Spine. They will begin with an accurate diagnosis, helping you to understand the nature and severity of your condition. This will lead to an effective treatment plan, allowing you to experience relief from any symptoms. To set an appointment, please call today.