Degenerative Disc Disease

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Discs lie between the spinal bones (vertebra) and serve as shock absorbers. This protects the spine and helps it stay flexible. Degenerative disc disease is wear and tear on these discs that causes pain and other symptoms. Some degeneration is normal as you age.

What Causes Disc Degeneration?

The disc loses fluid and is not as resilient as normal. The fibrous tissue, which holds the disk material in place, may suffer small tears. These tears lead to further damage. 

lumbar vertebrae normal disc and degenerative disc
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.Causes

Your Risk for Degenerative Disc Disease

Factors that may increase your chance for degenerative disk disease:

  • Increased age
  • Family history of degenerative disk disease
  • Sports
  • Back injury
  • Smoking
  • Heavy physical work
  • Obesity

Symptoms of Disc Degeneration

Symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:

  • Pain in the low back, buttocks, thighs or neck
  • Pain that worsens when sitting, bending, lifting or twisting
  • Pain that feels better when walking, changing positions or lying down
  • Periods of severe pain that gets better after a few days or months
  • Numbness and tingling into the legs
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Inability to raise the foot at the ankle

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history and perform a physical exam. Some tests may include:

  • MRI scan
  • X-ray
  • Discography
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

Depending on the severity of your condition, physical therapy, injections or surgery may be options. Talk to your doctor about the best plan for you.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.