Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease

A common cause of low back pain, degenerative disc disease is not really a disease at all but rather a term used to describe the normal changes in the discs in the spine as people age. The discs between the bones (or vertabraes) in the spine are soft jelly like discs covered by a tough outer layer. These discs act as shock absorbers between the vertabraes. Because the lumbar spine is one of the strongest areas of the spine, it is able to withstand terrific forces and yet still allows the body to be very flexible and mobile.

Although some disc degeneration is normal and expected as people age, lumbar degenerative disc disease may start with a sudden injury such as a fall or a torsional (or twisting) injury to the lower back.


Degenerative disc disease may result in lower back pain however this varies from person to person. Some people may have no pain while others with the same amount of degeneration may have severe pain. Other symptoms of lumbar disc degeneration may include:

  • Pain in the lower back region
  • Pain and numbness in the buttocks or leg.
  • Pain that worsens with movements such as twisting, reaching up, bending over, etc.
  • Difficulty walking


Diagnosis of lumbar degenerative disc disease is done by first collecting the medical history of the patient in order to rule out other conditions. A physical examination will also be done with careful attention paid to the back and lower extremities to evaluate flexibility, range of motion, and any signs that the nerve roots are being affected such as numbness or weakness.

X-rays or MRIs may be ordered to further evaluate your condition and rule out or pinpoint other issues such as fractures, tumors or an infection.

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