The discs that reside in our spinal columns are a vital part of our anatomy, acting as shock absorbers for our vertebrae and allowing our spines to bend and twist. These discs are located between vertebrae and are actually tire-shaped pieces of rubbery cartilage with gelatin filling the hole.

Degenerative Disc Disease Causes

The prevalence of disc degeneration in people under the age of 50 has been shown to be 71 per cent in men and 77 per cent in women; for those over 50, it is present in 90 per cent of both men and women.

So lets take a look at some of the degenerative disc disease causes. As we age, our discs naturally degenerate. They lose fluid, making them flatter and narrowing the distance between our vertebrae. This means that the discs are less able to absorb shocks and render us less flexible.

The outer layer of the disc may also be subject to tiny tears or cracks, allowing the gelatin in the centre to seep out. This may cause the disc to bulge, rupture or break into pieces. Bone spurs may also form or the disc’s rough surfaces may rub against each other, given the decreased space between them; this may result in pain and inflammation.

In addition, the nerve roots, the points where spinal nerves leave the spinal column to extend to other body parts, may get irritated or become compressed. The condition and these related maladies are lumped together under the term degenerative disc disease (DDD).

Disc degeneration doesn’t always lead to tearing and subsequent pain. It is most likely to do so if you have a history of smoking; do heavy physical work; don’t get much exercise; or are obese.


There are various ways the discomfort of degenerative disc disease pain can manifest itself.

  • Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms. You may have back or neck pain that travels to the extremities; it can be mild or severe. You may find that your arms and shoulders are numb or tingling if the degeneration affects your cervical spine.
  • Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms. If your lumbar spine is affected, you may have numbness in your legs, back or buttocks. If your ribcage hurts, your thoracic spine is likely responding to DDD. Bending over, reaching up or twisting may increase your pain, and it may worsen if you remain in one position for a long period of time. It may also be worse early in the morning.

The onset of pain may result from a major injury, such as a car accident, or a minor injury, such as falling from a stepping stool. However, it may also appear for no apparent reason.

degenerative disc disease pain

How to Treat Degenerative Disc Disease

If your physician suspects that you have degenerative disc disease based on your symptoms, he or she may try to pinpoint the source of your pain; measure the range of motion of your spine, your arms and your legs; perform muscle strength and sensation tests to determine if a nerve is affected; and examine your posture and observe your gait.

So what is the best treatment for degenerative disc disease?

At home and at work you can get some pain relief for degenerative disc disease by applying heat or cold to the affected areas and take acetaminophen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

To achieve ongoing relief, physical therapy is the most common treatment. It helps in managing degenerative disc disease pain and improving range of motion, strength and flexibility. It assists patients in strengthening muscles that can help assume some of the load previously handled by the discs; it also increases blood supply to the injured area, bringing more oxygen and nutrients that can assist in repairing the damage done.

Degenerative disc disease exercises may include stretching and flexibility exercises that help you to improve movement in your joints and muscles, which generally aids in pain relief.

Strengthening exercises will strengthen both your core, which provides support to your spinal joints, and your extremities, which can assume some of the workload usually done by the spinal joint. Aerobic exercises may also be added to the program, since they improve mobility, relieve pain and help you maintain a healthy weight.

In addition, your physiotherapist may use spinal traction and some hands-on techniques, such as massage, to loosen tight muscles and stiff joints so they can move better. He or she will also give you instructions about sitting, standing, bending and sleeping properly to ease your pain.

If none of these methods produce results, talk with your doctor. In severe cases, surgery may be required.

Remember: disc degeneration is a normal part of aging; you can’t prevent the march of time but you can manage the changes with proper advice from trained professionals.

Let's get you some relief!