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What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease isn’t technically a disease but instead is a collection of symptoms caused by a damaged spinal disc. This disease typically begins to manifest as you age, but this isn’t always true. Let’s take a closer look at this fairly common disease.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

The symptoms of degenerative disc disease vary from person to person because your symptoms depend on what the actual diagnosis is. In general, the symptoms include lower back pain that’s worse when seated, tingling and numbness in the extremities, and pain that radiates from the spine to the hands and arms.

Because the pain is related to disc damage, you may find some relief in movement, such as changing sleeping or sitting positions, or in exercise such as running or walking. On the other hand, twisting, lifting, and bending tend to make the pain worse as the discs are strained during these activities.

Diagnosis: Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease doesn’t happens overnight. In fact, it takes decades before you even see the symptoms of degeneration. Our bodies are built to withstand quite a bit of impact, but after many years of unintentional neglect, you’ll start to see the negative effects. So how is degenerative disc disease diagnosed?

Because it’s not an actual disease with one single cause, diagnosis can be a bit tricky and is more so done by looking at the present symptoms. We’ve outlined a few of the most common below, but in general, all relate to back pain of some sort. If your back pain is manageable and ignored, you may find that, over time, it gets much worse.

Prevention and Mitigation

Because of the variable nature of degenerative disc disease, there are many causes. But prevention and mitigation of the worsening of the disease include living an active and healthy lifestyle.

One of the main causes of degenerative disc disease is actually dehydration or the drying out of the disc. At birth, your spinal discs are roughly 80% water, but over time. they don’t absorb shocks as well because they dry out. Proper hydration, posture, and muscle strength can help to prevent this.

On the other hand, too much high-impact activity can damage to the outer core of the disc and eventually lead to degeneration. However, this doesn’t always lead to back pain. The key is to get proper medical attention at the time of the injury or as soon after as possible to prevent further damage.

Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment

Your orthopaedic physician should examine any injury that causes instability, soreness, or swelling in the back as soon as possible. As with any physical ailment, the key to preventing further damage is early diagnosis and treatment.

Treatments for this collection of symptoms include physical therapy, spinal mobilization, heat and cold therapy, and surgery, including spinal fusion and artificial disc replacement.

For more information on relieving your joint pain, click here to download our eBookThe Patient’s Manual to Joint Replacement.


Premier Orthopaedics is the largest orthopaedic group in Delaware and Chester counties. Premier provides patients with the full spectrum of orthopaedic services; including bone, muscle and joint care. Patients trust our specialists for their experience, expertise and commitment to exceptional patient care.