Degenerative Disc Disease: Symptoms, Treatment, Complications


Degenerative disc disease, or DDD for short, is a progressive condition that occurs over time usually because of wear and tear changes.

In our body, we have 33 bones or vertebrae in our back. What’s between the vertebrae of the spine is called intervertebral discs, which play the role of cushions and shock absorbers. As people grow old, the discs may dry out, thin, or crack.

The degenerative process does not necessarily cause pain, but when it does, degenerative disc disease happens. With people aging, the discs lose their water content and then lead to discs degeneration.

In most situations, people with degenerative disc disease will feel painful in the neck or the lower back.

So, degenerative disc disease, in fact, is not a real disease. The condition actually refers to natural, age-related disc changes. Moreover, once the disc is damaged, it cannot be repaired. For that reason, the situation can get worse over time. In less frequent cases, injury or trauma also may be the cause of degenerative disc disease.

Generally speaking, when people reach the age of 35, about 30% of them will show signs of disc degeneration at some levels.

Typically, degenerative disc disease starts from the age of 30 to 40 and then progresses bit by bit.

For people at the age of 60 or more, as many as 90% of them will show some disc degeneration symptoms.

According to statistics, about 40% of people at the age of 40 have degenerative disc disease. For people who are 80 or older, as many as 80% of them suffer from the condition.

Risk Factors

Although degenerative disc disease is mainly due to wear and tear changes, some other factors also can lead to the condition. If you have experienced severe back injury or trauma, you may be at risk of getting degenerative disc disease too.

There are other risk factors, including:

  • Car accidents
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity


According to the severity, the location of the disc changes, the signs and symptoms of degenerative disc disease may vary from person to person.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the lower back at the begining
  • Pain in the buttocks and upper thighs
  • Trouble twisting and bending
  • Difficulty sitting
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms and legs
  • Weakened muscels in the legs

Usually, the symptoms of degenerative disc disease tend to worsen over time. For some people with the disease, they may experience pain at intervals as well. If they take a walk or move around, the often would feel better.


Depending on the severity of the condition, people with degenerative disc disease may receive different treatment methods.

Non-surgical treatment

  • Heat and/or cold therapy.

Heat packs can help reduce the inflammation that causes pain while cold packs can alleviate the pain for the affected area.

  • Pain medications.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be taken to decrease the pain and inflammation.

  • Prescribed medications.

If the over-the-counter pain medications do not work, you can consult the doctor and have some prescribed medications to decrease the pain.

  • Physical therapy.

For people with degenerative disc disease, walking and moving would make them feel better. So, in this case, a physical therapy that involves a proper amount of exercises can help to strengthen the muscles and alleviate the pain.

Surgical treatment

Under the condition that the non-surgical methods do not have any effect and that the disc degeneration is so severe that it compresses the spinal nerves, the doctor may recommend surgery. Surgical treatment may include the following:

  • Discectomy.

This surgery aims to remove the disc and related bone spurs that compress the spinal cord or surrounding nerves so that the pressure on the spinal area can be relieved.

  • Spinal fusion.

If the spine is unstable, the doctor may choose to perform a spinal fusion surgery. In this surgical procedure, metallic devices are used to maintain spinal stability.

  • Artificial Disc Replacement.

In this surgical procedure, the doctor implants an artificial disc, which may be plastic or metal, into the spine so that the degenerated intervertebral discs can be replaced.


As the degenerative disc disease advances, other complications such as osteoarthritis may arise. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis, which can cause pain and stiffness in the affected joints. In this case, osteoarthritis may occur in the back. As the condition progresses, it may worsen over time and limit the patient’s normal activities.

Therefore, maintaining a regular exercise habit plays a crucial role to stay healthy. If you are living with degenerative disc disease, make sure you stay active and keep a healthy body weight.

Keywords: degenerative disc disease.

Related Posts:

What Do You Know about Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) – Symptoms & Treatment

What is Osteoarthritis of the Spine?

How to Treat Osteoarthritis of the Spine?

What Exercises are Good for Osteoarthritis Treatment?

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.