ALERTS & COVID-19 UPDATES Learn more: COVID-19 Resources; COVID-19 Testing; Vaccine Info; Safe Care; Visitor Policy; Support Us, DPH Attestation & Phase 3 Information

by McCoy K


Degenerative disc disease is a wear and tear of the discs between spinal bones (vertebrae). Healthy discs act like cushions to protect the spine and help it stay flexible.

Degenerative Disc
si1929 97870 1 degenerative
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Causes may be:

  • Drying out of discs due to the normal aging process
  • Tears in the outer portion of the disc from sports, heavy lifting, or physical work
  • Back injuries

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Having other family members with this process
  • Strain on the back from sports, heavy lifting, or physical work
  • Smoking
  • Obesity


Problems may be:

  • Pain in the low back, buttocks, thighs, or neck
  • Pain that worsens when sitting, bending, lifting, or twisting
  • Pain that feels better when walking, changing positions, or lying down
  • Numbness and tingling into the legs
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Inability to raise the foot at the ankle


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the spine.

Images may be taken of the spine. This can be done with:

Your nerves may be evaluated. This can be done with an electromyogram and nerve conduction studies.


There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as avoiding activities that cause pain and applying cold or warm compresses
  • Physical therapy to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion
  • Medicines to ease pain, such as pain relievers and steroid injections

People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. Choices are:

  • Artificial disc replacement
  • Spinal fusion to join two vertebrae together


The risk of this problem may be lowered by:


North American Spine Society 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 


Canadian Orthopaedic Association 

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation 


Degenerative Disc Disease. Hospital for Special Surgery website. Available at: Accessed February 17, 2021.

Deyo RA, Mirza SK. CLINICAL PRACTICE. Herniated Lumbar Intervertebral Disk. N Engl J Med. 2016 May 5;374(18):1763-1772.

Low back pain. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed February 17, 2021.

Lumbar disk herniation. EBSCO Dynamed website. Available at: Accessed February 17, 2021.

Madera M, Brady J, Deily S, et al. The role of physical therapy and rehabilitation after lumbar spinal fusion surgery for degenerative Disease: a systematic review. J Neurosurg:Spine.2017:26(6):694-704.

Shi WB, Agbese E, et a;. Performance of pain interventionalists from different specialties in treating degenerative disk disease-related low back pain, Arch Rehab Res Clin Trans. 2020; 2(3).

Revision Information