The X-ray above shows degenerated discs on the left before surgery. On the right is an X-ray of the discs after traditional spinal fusion surgery.
The typical person with degenerative disc disease is active, otherwise healthy and in his or her 30s or 40s.
Common symptoms of this condition include:
- Pain that is worse when sitting. While seated, the discs of the lower back have three times more load on them than when standing.
- Pain that gets worse when bending, lifting or twisting
- Feeling better while walking or even running than while sitting or standing for long periods of time
- Feeling better changing positions often or lying down
- Periods of severe pain that come and go. These last from a few days to a few months before getting better. They can range from nagging pain to severe, disabling pain.
- Pain can affect the low back, buttocks and thighs or the neck, depending on where the affected disc is, radiating to the arms and hands
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Weakness in the leg muscles or foot drop may be a sign that there is damage to the nerve root
Causes and Risk Factors
Several factors can cause discs to degenerate, including age. Specific factors include:
- The drying out of the disc. When we are born, the disc is about 80% water. As we age, the disc dries out and doesn't absorb shocks as well
- Daily activities and sports cause tears in the outer core of the disc. By the age of 60, most people have some degree of disc degeneration. Not everyone at that age has back pain, however.
- Injuries, which can cause swelling, soreness and instability. This can result in low back pain.