Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal changes in your spinal discs 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).
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, and tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer (annulus or capsule) of the disc.
- Pain that gets worse when bending, lifting or twisting.
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities.
- Feeling better changing positions often or lying down.
- Weakness in the leg muscles or foot drop may be a sign that there is damage to the nerve root.
Non-surgical treatment can be effective at managing symptoms. But if you develop health problems such as osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or spinal stenosis, you may need other treatments. These include physical therapy and exercises for strengthening and stretching the back. In some cases, surgery may be recommended. Surgery usually involves removing the damaged disc. In some cases, the bone is then permanently joined (fused) to protect the spinal cord. In rare cases, an artificial disc may be used to replace the disc that is removed.