Degenerative Disc Disease

This con­di­tion can devel­op as a nat­ur­al part of the aging process, but it may also result from injury to the back. Degen­er­a­tive disc dis­ease gen­er­al­ly begins when small tears appear in the disc wall, called the annu­lus. These tears can cause pain. The tears heal, cre­at­ing scar tis­sue that is not as strong as the orig­i­nal disc wall. If the back is repeat­ed­ly injured, the process of tear­ing and scar­ring may con­tin­ue, weak­en­ing the disc wall. Over time, the nucle­us (cen­ter) of the disc becomes dam­aged and los­es some of its water con­tent. This cen­ter is called the pul­po­sus, and its water con­tent is need­ed to keep the disc func­tion­ing as a shock absorber for the spine. Unable to act as a cush­ion, the nucle­us col­laps­es. The ver­te­brae above and below this dam­aged disc slide clos­er togeth­er. This improp­er align­ment caus­es the fact joints-the areas where the ver­te­bral bones tough- to twist into an unnat­ur­al posi­tion. In time, this awk­ward posi­tion­ing of the ver­te­brae may cre­ate bone spurs. If these spurs grow into the spinal canal, they may pinch the spinal cord and nerves (a con­di­tion called spinal stenosis).


The site of the injury may be painful. Some peo­ple expe­ri­ence pain, numb­ness or tin­gling in the legs. Strong pain tends to come and go. Bend­ing, twist­ing and sit­ting may make the pain worse. Lying down relieves pres­sure on the spine. 

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