Degenerative disc disease refers to the changes that occur to the spinal discs as a result of the aging process. The spine is made up vertebrae which interlock. These vertebrae are separated by the spinal discs. The spinal discs can be compressed making them good shock absorbers for the spine. They also make it easy for the spine to twist and bend. Degenerative disc disease is more frequent in the cervical and lumbar region of the spine than in other parts of the body.


What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of degenerative disc disease may vary in different people. This is because a person may experience pain due to disc damage in a particular region and another person may not experience any pain for the same damage in the same area. Degenerative disc disease can occur in the back, or the neck and pain are experienced in the location of the damaged disc. Degenerative disc disease may lead to severe pain when bending or twisting and this can limit the movement of persons affected. If it occurs in the lumbar region, pain may extend from the back to the legs and may also affect the buttock. In the cervical region, the pain usually radiates from the neck to the arms.

Pain resulting from degenerative disc disease may be experienced after a minor or a major injury. It can also be after a daily routine movement such as bending or jumping. An accident or a fall can be among the causal factors of pain.


Degenerative disc disease occurs as a result of changes in the body as a result of the aging process. Some of these changes include;

  • A tear or a crack on the annulus of the disc: As a result of this crack, the disc may rupture or break into tiny pieces. The disc may also bulge as a result of the nucleus of the disc being forced out through the cracks.
  • A loss of disc fluids: as the fluid in the disc is lost, it becomes less flexible and is unable to absorb shock in the spinal area. It may also lead to a decrease in the distance between the vertebrae and also cause thinner discs.

There are also other causes of degenerative disc disease. One such cause is the development of bone spurs. This is known as osteophytes. It occurs when the space between vertebrae gets narrower leading to instability in the spine. As the bony spurs are developed, they increase the pressure on the nerve roots. This is because there is little space between them.

Another cause of degenerative disc disease is a sudden injury which may be a fall. This injury can lead to a herniated disc which may be a factor in the development of the degenerative disc disease.



Epidural Steroid Injections
As a way to provide temporary relief from back pain, the area of the spine where the pain is experienced is injected. This provides a direct medication which helps to reduce inflammation in that area.

Lumbar Spinal Fusion Surgery
Performing a Lumbar Spinal Fusion surgery helps to stop the motion of the body in an area where movement causes pain. This helps to reduce the pain experienced by a patient.

There are different forms of fusion surgery which are determined by the level on which the degenerative disc disease affects the spine.
At the L5-S1 segment, performing a one-level fusion is quite popular, and it does not have any noticeable effect on the actions carried out in the back. This is because this segment is susceptible to a breakdown resulting from the consequences of the degenerative disc disease.
A segment where some of the necessary motions of the lower back are performed is the L4-L5 level, a fusion surgery in this section may cause the inability to perform certain kinds of motion of the spine.

Aside from the single-level fusion, there are also multi-level fusions used in the treatment of degenerative disc disease in the lower back.

There is a 2-level fusion which is performed in patients experiencing chronic, crippling pain.
One of the least popular types of fusion is the 3-level type of multi-level fusion. Most doctors do not advise patients to go for this kind of fusion as it reduces the motion of the back at a high level and can be a source of pain.

Lumbar Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery
Artificial disc replacement surgery is a more modern surgery developed to treat degenerative disc disease in the lower back. The principle behind this surgery is that an artificial disc replaces an affected disc. This allows the lower back to function in its normal state and protects other discs from any increased stress that may cause a breakdown. As a newer form of surgery, there are still lots of unknowns with this type of surgery.

The most significant concern about this surgery is the likelihood of the need for a disc to be replaced in future. This is because there may be wear of the disc as it moves around in the body. This possibility increases since a lot of degenerative disc disease patients opting for surgery are quite young. This gives an extended period over which the disc will have to function.

The artificial discs are inserted from the front of the body into the spine. The spine where it is inserted is located under the vena cava. After the insertion of the disc, the vessels wedge themselves on the spine making it difficult to remove the disc.