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Degenerative Disc Disease

About Degenerative Disc Disease

One of the most misunderstood causes of low back pain is Degenerative Disc Disease yet it also one of the most common.

The name itself can worry patients unduly due to the very name. The term degenerative implies a long term illness that progresses over time. However, the condition isn’t strictly degenerative and more confusingly is not really a disease.
The word degenerative does apply to the disc itself, but not the symptoms and although the disc in question does get worse with age, any low back pain often does not and may even get better. Calling it a disease also misleads patients when in fact it is just a degenerative condition which may cause pain in the area of the damaged disc.

Example of Degenerative Disc DiseaseThe degeneration of a disc is a natural process of ageing and most of us may at some time experience the pain caused by a damaged disc to a greater or lesser extent.

What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?

Unfortunately many medical practitioners don’t agree on exactly what represents an accurate diagnosis of the condition and much research is still needed. However we will cover the current known facts.

Symptoms and signs of degenerative disc disease

Causes are similar to a herniated disc, i.e.; when the inner core (Nucleus Pulpous), gets squeezed out through the ligaments in the outer layer of the disc (Annulus Fibrosus). This creates lower back pain by either inflammation or abnormal micromotion instability. Proteins within the disc can cause a lot of inflammation, and it is this inflammation that leads to low back pain radiating to the hips or the back of the legs. In turn the inflammation or micromotion instability, may cause muscle spasms which is the body’s natural reflex to protect the spinal core, however this in itself is very painful.

A typical sufferer of degenerative disc disease is more often than not, healthy, active and around thirty to forty years of age. Degenerative disc disease pain is usually generally linked to activity or sports, and may flare up, come back as low level back pain or go away completely.

The most common signs and symptoms of a degenerative disc are:

  • Low back pain induced by sitting (see standing up for back pain relief).
  • Some activities/sports involving lifting, bending or twisting will aggravate lower back pain.
  • Quite often walking or even running will feel better than standing still for long periods.
  • Changing position often may also ease the pain especially when sleeping, however be aware of the possibility that too much sleep is bad for your back.

Leg pain, numbness and a tingling sensation may also be felt down the back or side of the thigh, but usually not below the knee, as the nerves within the spine become sensitized due to the inflammation of the disc. These feelings although seemingly serious, should not in most cases, alarm the patient that there is any nerve root damage. Any muscle weakness within the leg though should be investigated.