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Degenerative Disc Disease

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 4 Dec 2013 | comments*Discuss
Discs; Nerves; Smoking; Exercise; Spinal

With a name more frightening than may be needed, degenerative disc disease is a very common complaint of the back, with many people unaware that they may have the condition.

The symptoms of this complaint vary widely from person to person, though pain levels tend to be higher in the younger sufferers than older people. This is an unusual occurrence as degenerative disc disease is a natural part of the ageing process.

What Is It?

Degenerative disc disease affects the intervertebral discs that sit between the individual spinal vertebrae. They exist to absorb impact (like a shock absorber) and to prevent bone rubbing on bone. Each disc has a tough outer shell which contains a soft, often described as jelly-like substance, which is primarily made up of water. As the person gets older, the water content decreases and discs can become dehydrated making them more susceptible to injury.

The outer layer of the disc can become thinner through wear and tear, or in some circumstances can even tear. These tears can cause the inner substance to leak out into the surrounding structures which may cause pressure to be put on the nerves, alternatively, the nerves may begin to grow in and around the tear of the shell and invade the inner disc space. Either can cause the nerves to become irritated and inflamed. Pain can be chronic with periods of heightened levels, and can usually be helped by keeping mobile so as to relieve pressure from the nerves. Long periods of sitting and standing can aggravate the nerves and increase pain. Lying down can help because the position relieves pressure from the spine.

In the event of nerve interference, pain can sometimes be felt down the legs, with numbness or tingling experiences.Giving up smoking is essential if suffering pain from degenerative disc disease. Oxygen levels and blood supply to the area can be compromised with the incidence of smoking. As discs are already at risk of dehydration, reducing the oxygen and nutrients supplied to this area by smoking will exacerbate symptoms further.


Many people who live with this condition require no medical intervention. Pain can usually be managed independently by using anti-inflammatory medications. Occasionally your GP may prescribe a stronger painkiller for short term use, or an anti-depressant that can also have analgesic qualities and can aid sleep.

Diagnosis is made by taking a full history, physical examination and perhaps with an MRI scan.A programme of stretching exercises can help to prevent symptoms worsening with low-impact activities such as walking or swimming being encouraged to help stay supple and to strengthen abdominal muscles, which can act as a support to the spinal column.

Your GP may recommend referral to a chiropractor or trying acupuncture to help with pain relief. Surgery is a very rare solution for this problem, and procedures can include partial or total disc removal. If a disc is totally removed, the orthopaedic specialist may recommend also having a spinal fusion, using metal rods, screws and cages, or by inserting a prosthetic disc implant. This procedure is fairly new and research into your surgeon’s capabilities may be wise.


A tobacco free lifestyle is a great way of reducing the symptoms of degenerative disc disease, should the condition occur. A regular exercise programme and maintenance of a good level of fitness and strength will also help avoid the disc degenerating.

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i have degenerative disc disease in my neck and back and my right arm I am in pain 24/7 and on many drugs including morphine I need to find out how I can be more pain free and what I can do to help my life be more easyer and what treatments I can go for now I had mri and acupuncher,physio,deep heat gel and pads pain management I would like to find how to cope with my condition
maggie - 4-Dec-13 @ 6:20 PM
I have been suffering from a degenerative disease of my lower spine for the past 3 years. I have had pain management treatment, Acupuncture, Physiotherapy, Injections in my spine. Yet nothing has been of any help. I am taking over 200 pills a week to help with the constant pain and discomfort i am in, inc 100mg of Morphine a day. Yet the pain is always there. I can,t walk more than 10 feet before the pain kicks in. so i have to use a wheelchair whenever i have to go out.I am 90% dependant on my wife to do things for me.I can no-longerdrive my car because of the pain and discomfort it causes me. I am 53 years old and i have worked hard all my life. But now i can't work because of my condition.Yet my spinal consultant keeps telling me that they can't//won't operate on me because they say an operation could make my condition a lot worse. Can anyone please tell me if there is ANYTHING left that i can try, to help me with the pain and get me more mobile so i don't have to depend on my wife to do most things for me.Thank you.
Terry - 25-Apr-13 @ 1:13 PM
i have just recently had an m.r.i and the results have shown that my discs have completly worn away and i need surgery what does the surgery intell?
zobags - 27-Sep-12 @ 10:34 AM
discs l4 l5 siting onnerve bilatary have been told it needs op but i have heart disease so out of question im on 5 mg diazipan x3 times daily bu trans 15mg 7 day patch and gabipenton 600mg x3 times daily still get lot of nrerve pain in both legs back pain has bn controled very slightbut days i cant stand as if i was being crushed is there anything else that can b done to help me
anniemac - 18-Apr-12 @ 11:38 PM
What about the long term problems, I have been in pain for 7 months can't walk far or run. Pain began with leg pain and feeling my discs go together when sitting then one morning. I couldn't move and it took me 2 hours to get out of bed the pain was so bad. I have 3 children my youngest is 2 and now I can't bath them with out pain. Sometimes I can't get up the stairs. Now I'm on tramadol and diazepam for muscle spasms and also doing physiotherapy and now at last I can do a bit of walking. What about numbness in the buttocks I get that. It sometimes takes 18 months for a disc bulge to heal and I have 3 in 2 discs and my 3rd has annulus tears.
ceedog - 23-Mar-11 @ 4:35 PM
This article does not even touch the surface of DDD. It does not go into the fact that this is an osteo-arthritic disease, that it can affect any part of the spine which is impacted by movement OR that the pain it can lead to can be debilitating and disabling.
His_Honig - 13-Mar-11 @ 11:10 AM
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