Degenerative Disc Disease Overview

Degenerative disc disease is a condition affecting many people where a compromised disc in the spine leads to lower back pain. Often this is caused by a twisting injury to the back which can occur as a result of many normal every day movements. Degenerative disc disease is highly common and widespread and affects 50% of those 30-50 years old. It is in fact expected for patients over 60 to show some signs of disc degeneration.


The main symptom of degenerative disc disease is of course pain, which is usually continuous but tolerable. The pain will often go through occasions of ‘flare up’ where it is intensified for several days at a time.

Normally the pain is situated on the lower back, but this can radiate and affect the hips and legs. It is often worse when sitting due to the increased load placed on the back, and it is also often triggered by particular movements such as twisting, bending or lifting. The area itself might show swelling which is often the cause of the pain.

In some cases neck pain can also be experienced which might be a result of altered posture and this can subsequently result in shoulder pain as well as headaches.


The good news is that degenerative disc disease can often be successfully treated without the need for surgery and these treatment methods can involve physical therapy, other forms of manipulation, anti-inflammatory drugs, or spinal injections. Glucosamine injections have also been found recently to help with pain management.

In more severe cases however surgery may be suggested and the most common form here is spinal fusion of various kinds. In spinal fusion additional bone tissue is harvested either from the patient (autograft) or from a donor and is then used in order to fuse the vertebrae. Artificial disc replacement is also a viable alternative but has not yet been fully adopted as a mainstream form of treatment. This essentially bypasses the faulty vertebrae but may result in some reduction in movement. Research is being carried out into the use of stem cells for treating the condition.

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