What is Degenerative Disc Disease?


Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is a condition of the spine, in which one or more of the discs between your vertebrae, also known as intervertebral discs, no longer function in their role of supporting the spine. The intervertebral discs are the cushions between your vertebrae and are what enable you to bend, twist, carry weight, and help the back remain pliable.The discs are mainly comprised of water and as a person ages, the discs dry out, lose their flexibility, elasticity, and the ability to absorb shock.

DDD can occur in the cervical spine (neck), that can cause pain in the neck which radiates to the shoulders and arms. It can also lead to cervical spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis can be a painful condition as it compresses the spine cord or nerve roots, leading to pinched nerves that lead to inflammation and pain.

Degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine (mid back) can cause pain in the upper back. If the disc degeneration is significant, it may lead to bone spurs and reduced mobility.

Degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine (lower back) can cause pain in the lower back which may spread to the buttocks, thighs and down the legs. This can turn to into sciatica, a separate pain condition, which results in a sharp or burning pain that migrates down the legs.

There is a correlation between conditions that affect the circulatory system and DDD. The intervertebral disc relies on a transfer of nutrients from the disc margin, as the center of the disc does not have direct blood flow. If there is poor blood flow to the disc margins, the whole disc may not receive adequate nutrients. Individuals with vascular issues, such as atherosclerosis, may be at increased risk for developing DDD.

DDD generally occurs as a result of the combination of normal wear and tear (degeneration), an injury or trauma to the spine, such as a herniated disc; osteoarthritis, and risk factors, such as: being overweight and lack of exercise.

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