What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative Disc DiseaseDegenerative disc disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal changes and loss of fluid in your spinal discs that naturally occur as we age and possibly begin to develop chronic back pain. Disc degeneration can happen throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lumbar or lower back region and the cervical or neck region resulting in neck pain, and chronic back pain.

Spinal discs are soft, compressible and separate the interlocking bones or vertebrae that make up the spine, acting as "shock absorbers" that allow us to flex, bend, and twist with ease. As we experience a normal loss of fluid associated with age, it makes them thinner and narrows the distance between the vertebrae, resulting in tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc. Ultimately, the material inside the nucleus of the disc may be forced out through the tears or cracks, unfortunately resulting in a bulging disc or disc tear.

Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

This disease may result in back pain or neck pain, but this varies from person to person. Many people have no symptoms, while others with the same amount of disc damage can have severe pain that limits their activities. Where it occurs depends on the location of the affected disc. An affected disc in the neck area may result in neck or arm pain, while an affected disc in the lower back may result in chronic back pain or, more targeted discomfort in the back, buttock, or legs.

An affected disc in  the lower back may result in mild pain that radiates through the hips and legs, or more intense pain when the spine is under a heavy load, or carrying heavy objects. Pain that worsens when you perform movements such as, bending, lifting, twisting, sneezing, or even coughing.

How is Degenerative Disc Disease Diagnosed?

This condition is more likely to occur in people who do heavy physical work or repeated heavy lifting of any kind. People who are obese are also more likely to have symptoms of degenerative disc disease. A sudden injury leading to a herniated disc may also begin the degeneration process. If a patient has pain that worsens when they perform common movements, such as bending, lifting, twisting, sneezing or even coughing, that would signal to your physician that degenerative disc disease might be the diagnosis.  

Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment Options  

At Spine Centers of America, we take both surgical and non-surgical approaches to spinal conditions. Each case is unique and your condition is treated accordingly, with a “patient first” mentality that has your best interest and wellness in mind.


Non-surgical conservative treatment for disc degeneration include anti-inflammatory medications and activity modifications followed by core strengthening exercises. However, if underlying conditions such as osteoarthritis, disc herniations, or spinal stenosis are present, you may require additional treatment.
Frequently, physical therapy will be the next step in your conservative disc degeneration treatment. To help ensure successful results from physical therapy, you may choose to receive epidural steroid injections as an additional treatment for degenerative disc disease. We can provide you with pain relief by delivering medication directly to the painful area, which will help you perform the tasks recommended during physical therapy.


Relief and treatment for disc degeneration can be performed with either an open back procedure or a minimally invasive endoscopic procedure. During an open back procedure, the physician would surgically access the problem area on your spine using a larger incision. Endoscopically, you may only need a small incision to perform the procedure. Open back procedures require a longer recovery period time than minimally invasive procedures which are associated with a fast recovery and reduced risk of complications.  However, since it does involve the spine, it is strongly recommended that a board certified spinal surgeon perform either procedure. Every physician at our comprehensive spine center is a board certified spinal surgeon.

If you need more information about this condition, feel free to visit our spine educational videos page or contact us to speak to a spine specialist.