Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier
WebMD

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine
WebMD

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion
    WebMD

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community
    WebMD

    Community

    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Back Pain Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Degenerative Disc Disease - Topic Overview

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal changes in your spinal discs camera.gif as you age. Spinal discs are soft, compressible discs that separate the interlocking bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend, and twist. Degenerative disc disease can take place throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region).

The changes in the discs can result in back or neck pain and/or:

These conditions may put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, leading to pain and possibly affecting nerve function.

What causes degenerative disc disease?

As we age, our spinal discs break down, or degenerate, which may result in degenerative disc disease in some people. These age-related changes include:

  • The loss of fluid in your discs. This reduces the ability of the discs to act as shock absorbers and makes them less flexible. Loss of fluid also makes the disc thinner and narrows the distance between the vertebrae.
  • Tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer (annulus or capsule) of the disc. The jellylike material inside the disc (nucleus) may be forced out through the tears or cracks in the capsule, which causes the disc to bulge, break open (rupture), or break into fragments.

These changes are more likely to occur in people who smoke cigarettes and those who do heavy physical work (such as repeated heavy lifting). People who are obese are also more likely to have symptoms of degenerative disc disease.

A sudden (acute) injury leading to a herniated disc (such as a fall) may also begin the degeneration process.

As the space between the vertebrae gets smaller, there is less padding between them, and the spine becomes less stable. The body reacts to this by constructing bony growths called bone spurs (osteophytes). Bone spurs can put pressure on the spinal nerve roots or spinal cord, resulting in pain and affecting nerve function.

1 | 2
Next Article:

Degenerative Disc Disease Topics

Today on WebMD

Woman holding lower back
Or is it another form of back pain?
Hand on back
See the myths vs. the facts.
 
Woman doing pilates
Good and bad exercises.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Use it to manage your pain.
 
Man with enhanced spinal column, rear view
Video
pain in brain and nerves
Slideshow
 
Chronic Pain Healtcheck
Health Check
break at desk
Article
 
Woman holding lower back
Slideshow
Weight Loss Surgery
Slideshow
 
lumbar spine
Slideshow
back pain
Article