Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back pain, typically affecting active, healthy people in their 30s and 40s. However, since spinal disc degeneration is a natural part of the aging process, this condition also tends to affect the elderly.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?Degenerative disc disease is, in fact, not really a disease. It is actually a chronic, gradual deterioration of the soft, spongy discs that separate and cushion spinal vertebrae.
Over time, intervertebral discs break down, naturally losing their flexibility, elasticity and shock absorbing qualities. Ligaments surrounding discs (annulus fibrosis) become brittle and more likely to tear, causing bulges or ruptures. Also, the gel-like center of discs (nucleus pulposus) begins to dry out and shrink, making them thinner and narrowing the distance between vertebrae.
As a result, painful conditions such as spinal stenosis and herniated, bulging and protruding discs may develop by exerting pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
These changes may also occur as a result of smoking cigarettes, performing heavy physical work or participating in repetitious activities involving bending, lifting or twisting. Obese people are also more likely to display symptoms of degenerative disc disease.
Lumbar DDD PainMany people with degenerative disc disease never experience pain, while others with the same amount of disc damage can feel minor discomfort or even severe pain that limits their activities.
Low back pain may start after a major injury such as from a car accident. Pain may also be triggered by minor injuries, such as falling from a low height or normal, everyday motions including bending and twisting. Sometimes, pain may also begin gradually for unknown reasons and grow worse over time.
Lumbar DDD typically causes long-lasting, dull pain in the lower back combined with occasional severe flare ups lasting for relatively short periods of time. Eventually, pain levels either return to lower levels or may go away entirely.
Common Symptoms of Lumbar Degenerative Disc DiseasePhysical symptoms related to lumbar degenerative disc disease typically include some or all of the following:
- centralized pain in the lower back
- radiating pain, numbness or tingling sensation in the hips, buttocks and legs
- worsening pain when sitting or standing in place
- increased pain from activities involving bending, twisting and lifting
- walking and running may feel better than sitting and standing
- resting eases the pain
- decreased pain when frequently changing positions
Sitting is often problematic for people with DDD because this position forces lumbosacral discs to support heavier loads than when a person is in a standing position.
The following warning signs are indications of a serious problem. People experiencing any of these issues should seek immediate help:
- pain is disabling or continues getting worse
- leg weakness, pain, numbness or tingling
- loss of bowel or bladder control