Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)


Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is the gradual degeneration of the discs between the vertebrae in the spine.


Age-related changes in our spinal discs include:

Loss of fluid in your discs, reducing flexibility and shock absorbtion. 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.


Degenerative disc disease may result in back or neck pain, but this varies from person to person. Low back pain, generally made worse with sitting, is a common symptom of DDD. An affected disc in the lower back may also result in buttock or leg pain. The pain often gets worse with movements such as bending over, reaching up, or twisting. In some cases, you may have leg numbness or tingling.


To relieve pain, use ice or heat (whichever feels better) on the affected area and use acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.  Your doctor can prescribe stronger medicines if needed. Further treatment depends on whether the damaged disc has resulted in other conditions, such as osteoarthritis, herniated disc or spinal stenosis. 

Physical therapy and exercises may be needed for or strengthening and stretching.

In some cases, surgery may be recommended. Surgery for degenerative disc disease usually involves removing the damaged disc.