About Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease, also called disc degeneration, is the term for changes in your spinal discs as you get older. The discs are located between your spinal vertebrae (bones). They support your spinal bones and cushion your movements.

Each disc is like a jelly donut, with a soft center (nucleus) surrounded by a tough outer shell (capsule). With age, the discs flatten out and spread sideways. The disc capsule can become brittle or crack and the nucleus can leak or bulge. When disc tissue presses on nearby spinal nerves or joints, this can cause pain.

Doctors call pain caused by a degenerative disc “discogenic pain.” The name means pain is caused, or generated, by changes in the spinal disc.

Severe disc degeneration disease can cause nerve damage. You might need surgery to keep this from happening or reduce symptoms of nerve damage. However, most people who have pain from a degenerative disc can be treated without surgery or disc replacement.

Causes of disc degeneration disease

Disc degeneration disease can be caused by sudden injuries, such as falling or lifting something heavy. However, it is most commonly caused by age, usually takes place over many years and gets worse over time. When disc degeneration occurs the disc tissue flattens out and spreads sideways, the disc does not support your spinal bones and cushion your movements as well as before. This can cause neck or back pain. As the degenerated disc spreads, it can also cause pain by pressing on nearby spinal nerves or joints.

Disc degeneration symptoms

Symptoms of a degenerated disc include:

  • Pain in the center of your neck or back
  • Pain that gets worse with sitting for a long time or leaning forward
  • Pain that gets worse with vibration (such as riding in a car) or other types of movement