Spinal Problems Discs Degeneration

Spinal discs are largely made of water. As you age, the water content of the intervertebral discs decreases, causing the discs to shrink and become more rigid. The space between the vertebrae then decreases. Degeneration of discs in the spine is a normal part of the aging process.

Disc degeneration often causes no pain or problems. Problems occur when a disc impinges or compresses a spinal nerve root. This situation is often called “degenerative disc disease.” Degenerative disc disease is not technically a disease; it’s just a descriptive term that refers to pain due to age-related disc degeneration.

In addition to aging, other causes of degenerative disc disease include traumatic injuries and activities (such as sports) that cause tears in the outer part of the disc. Although this condition is typically diagnosed during the third or fourth decade of life, it is not a progressive condition and can usually be managed with conservative treatments.

Discogenic Back Pain

Another term used to describe pain due to degeneration of discs is “discogenic” pain. Again, the definition of discogenic pain varies according the medical source. The Maryland Spine Center claims that discogenic pain occurs as a result of movements that place stress on the disc, causing the discs to feel painful.

Discogenic pain is usually associated with activities that increase pressure in the disc, such as:

  • Bending forward
  • Coughing
  • Sitting
  • Sneezing.

Degeneration of Discs: Other Effects

In addition to back or neck pain from nerve compression, degeneration of the discs can lead to:

  • A bulging or herniated disc
  • A narrowing of the spinal canal (called “spinal stenosis”)
  • Increased risk of injury from even minor trauma
  • Osteoarthritis in the joints of the spine.

Treating Degeneration of Discs

It’s not possible to reverse disc degeneration. Treatment for disc degeneration focuses on relieving pain and other symptoms, and includes most standard treatments for back pain, including:

  • Acupuncture and other alternative treatments
  • Chiropractic work
  • Exercise
  • Medications
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (not smoking and eating healthfully)
  • Physical therapy and massage therapy
  • Rest for acute pain followed by a gradual return to activity
  • Steroid injections if more conservative treatment fails
  • Surgery (in extreme cases).


Cedars-Sinai Staff. (n.d.). Degenerative disc disease. Retrieved March 9, 2010, from http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/5757.html

Mummaneni, P., M.D., Spinasanta S. (n.d.). Discogenic low back pain. Retrieved March 9, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/degenerative-disc/degenerative-disc-disease-animation

Spine Universe Staff. (n.d.). Degenerative disc disease animation. Retrieved March 9, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/degenerative-disc/degenerative-disc-disease-animation

University of Maryland Spine Program Staff. (n.d.). A patient’s guide to degenerative disc disease. Retrieved March 9, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/spinecenter/education/degenerative_disc_disease.htm

Ullrich, P., M.D. (n.d.). What is degenerative disc disease? Retrieved March 9, 2010, from http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/degenerative-disc-disease/what-degenerative-disc-disease