Degenerative Disc Disease

What is Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is typically associated with aging and involves degeneration (break down) of the spinal intervertebral discs. The intervertebral discs are a special type of joint between adjacent vertebrae. They help your back carry weight and allow complex motions of the spine while maintaining stability. As you age, your discs, like other joints in the body, can degenerate due to accumulative years of strain, overuse, and maybe even misuse.  As you age, the discs can lose flexibility, elasticity, and shock absorbing characteristics. They also become thinner and become dehydrated (loose water content). When all that happens, the discs change from a supple state that allows fluid movement to a stiff and rigid state that restricts your movement and causes pain.

If you have chronic back or neck pain, you may have degenerative disc disease. It commonly occurs in your low back (lumbar spine) or neck (cervical spine). Developing degenerative disc disease is a gradual process.

Although there is a slight genetic component to individuals who suffer from DDD, the true cause is probably multi-factorial. It could be from simple wear and tear, or may have a traumatic cause. However, it rarely starts from a major trauma such as a car accident. It is most likely due to a low grade injury to the disc that progresses with time. Lifestyle factors play a part with certain sports, occupations and repetitive activities in the development of DDD.

The disc itself does not have a blood supply, so if it sustains an injury it cannot repair itself the way other tissues in the body can. An otherwise insignificant injury to the disc can start a degenerative process whereby the disc wears out. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is fairly common, and it is estimated that at least 30% of people aged 30-50 years old will have some degree of disc space degeneration, although not all will have pain or ever receive a formal diagnosis. After a patient reaches 60, some level of disc degeneration is a normal finding on an MRI scan, rather than the exception.

Low Back Pain and Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment Goals

The vast majority of people with degenerative disc disease experience low back pain symptoms or neck pain that flares up periodically, but doen’t get worse over time. For those people, the main goals of treatment are:

  • Maintaining normal motion and alignment between adjacent spinal vertebrae through
  • Preventing the application of excess stress on the disc through proper ergonomics and posture thereby avoid accelerating the degenerative process.
  • Remain active with no loss of normal home, recreational, sporting and work function

How we manage DDD (it can’t be cured)

  1.  manual therapy (passive treatment)
  2. general and specific exercises advice and prescription (active self-care)
  3. Low Level Laser therapy
  4.  Nutritional advice


  1. Urban, J.P. and Roberts, S., 2003. Degeneration of the intervertebral disc. Arthritis Res Ther5(3), p.120.