Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease refers to a syndrome in which a compromised disc causes low back pain, or neck pain. Lumbar degenerative disc disease usually starts with a twisting injury to the lower back, such as when a person rotates to put something on a shelf or swinging a golf club. However, the pain is also frequently caused by simple wear and tear on the spine. Despite its rather dramatic label, degenerative disc disease is fairly common, and it is estimated that at least 30% of people aged 30–50 years old will have some degree of disc space degeneration, although not all will have pain or ever receive a formal diagnosis. In fact, after a patient reaches 60, some level of disc degeneration is deemed to be a normal finding, not the exception.

What is the cause of pain with Degenerative Disc Disease?

Generally, the pain associated with degenerative disc disease is thought to stem from two different factors inflammation and abnormal micro-motion instability. The proteins in the disc space can cause a lot of inflammation, and inflammation in the disc space can lead to low back pain radiating to the hips. The associated pain can also travel down the back of the legs. Both the inflammation and micromotion instability can cause muscular spasm in the low back. The muscle spasm is the body’s attempt to stabilize the low back. It is a reflex, and although the body’s response of muscle spasm is not necessary for the safety of the nerve roots, it can be quite painful. If the disc is degenerated in the cervical spine patient will have neck pain, and possibly pain radiating to the arms.

What are the common symptoms associated with Degenerative Disc Disease?

  • The low back pain is generally made worse with sitting, since in the seated position the lumbosacral discs are loaded three times more than standing.
  • Certain types of activity will usually worsen the low back pain, especially bending, lifting and twisting.
  • Walking, and even running, may actually feel better than prolonged sitting or standing.
  • Patients will generally feel better if they can change positions frequently, and lying down is usually the best position since this relieves stress on the disc space.
  • Neck pain is generally made worse with lifting and rotation.

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