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Degenerative Disc Disease

In spite of its name, degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease. It refers to the natural process by which the intervertebral discs of the spine change over time.

As part of the normal aging process, our intervertebral discs — the cushions between the vertebrae (bones) that act as shock absorbers and enable complex motions like bending and twisting — begin to dry and shrink. 

In some cases, these changes eventually lead to ruptured — or herniated — discs, instability in the spine, and/or narrowing of the spinal canal. These issues may in turn cause symptoms, including the following:

  • Neck or back pain
    • Flare-ups , particularly lower back pain
    • Pain made worse by bending, lifting or twisting
    • Pain made worse by sitting (for lumbar degenerative disc disease)
  • Radiating pain
  • Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs

Degeneration can occur at any point in the spine but is most common in the lumbar spine (lower back) and cervical spine (neck). 

How can I get help for degenerative disc disease?

Often back pain and other symptoms related to degenerative disc disease will go away with the following:

  • Rest
  • Restricting the activities that cause your pain
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen)

If the above does not help address your pain, you may wish to see your primary care physician. Visit your doctor if you experience the following:

  • Chronic back pain, particularly lower back pain or neck pain
  • Numbness or weakness in your legs
  • Any of the above symptoms of degenerative disc disease