Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease

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Lumbar (low back) degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a common condition in aging adults. The intervertebral discs serve as the spine’s shock absorbers and, as we age, discs gradually dry out, losing strength and resiliency. In most people, these changes are gradual. In fact, you may not know you have DDD. 

Symptoms of Lumbar Disc Disease

Disc degeneration is a normal part of aging, and usually is not a problem. However, DDD can cause discs to lose height and become stiff. When disc height is lost, nerve impingement, bone and joint inflammation and pain can occur. Disc degeneration causes loss of the joint space, similar to arthritis pain and inflammation. In severe cases, pain may be constant.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor will ask your medical history, perform a physical exam, and order diagnostic tests that may include:

  • X-rays
  • Discography 

Most cases of lumbar degenerative disc disease do not require surgery. Many different nonsurgical treatments can help relieve symptoms. 

Surgical Treatment 

If symptoms of lumbar DDD persist, despite nonoperative treatments, you may require further diagnostic tests that include:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Myelogram

You may require surgery if your surgeon discovers that one or more intervertebral discs are damaged and causing pain or other symptoms. The surgical procedure likely will include a discectomy (removal of the damaged disc) and interbody fusion (fusing together the vertebrae above and below the disc space).  

Many procedures are performed using minimally invasive techniques, which can help speed your recovery.


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.