Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

As a spine surgeon, I’m intimately familiar with degenerative disc disease, a progressive condition that I see regularly in my practice. It’s characterized by the gradual deterioration of the spinal discs, which frequently results in persistent pain, numbness, and weakness in my patients. The discs at play here are the ones nestled between the vertebrae in the spine, acting as crucial shock absorbers and facilitators of spinal movement. However, with the passage of time, these discs can suffer from wear and tear. This degradation frequently leads to pain and inflammation, manifesting a wide array of symptoms in my patients. These symptoms can vary significantly, depending on where in the spine the degeneration has occurred and the severity of the condition.

Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of degenerative disc disease can vary depending on the location and severity of the condition. 


Pain in the back, neck, or limbs is a common symptom of degenerative disc disease. It may be localized or radiate to other parts of the body, manifesting as a dull ache or a sharp pain that worsens with movement. In some cases, the pain may be so severe that it interferes with daily activities and quality of life.


People with degenerative disc disease may experience stiffness and decreased mobility in the affected area. This can make it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as bending or reaching. In severe cases, you may experience difficulty standing or walking. This can lead to muscle atrophy and loss of function.

Tingling or Numbness 

You may experience numbness or tingling sensations in the arms, legs, or other parts of the body. This occurs due to nerve compression caused by the degenerated discs. Numbness and tingling can also be accompanied by a burning or prickling sensation.


Weakness in the arms or legs can also be one of the degenerative disc disease symptoms. This can make it difficult to perform daily activities such as holding objects, walking, or standing for prolonged periods.

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

The causes of degenerative disc disease can vary, but they often include a combination of factors. 


The most common cause of degenerative disc disease is the natural aging process. As we age, the discs in our spine naturally degenerate, becoming less flexible and less effective at absorbing shock. Aging can also lead to spinal stenosis, which is another cause of degenerative disc disease.


Trauma to the spine, such as a fall or car accident, can cause the discs to break down. This can be especially true if the injury damages the outer layer of the disc. The stress placed on the spinal discs during the injury can lead to accelerated wear and tear. Repetitive stress injuries, most common in athletes and manual laborers, can also lead to degenerative disc disease.


Some people may be predisposed to developing degenerative disc disease due to genetic factors. Research has shown that certain genes are associated with an increased risk of developing the condition.


Certain lifestyle factors can also increase the risk of developing degenerative disc disease. These factors include smoking, poor posture, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease

Treating Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

There are several treatment options available for degenerative disc disease symptoms. The best option will depend on the severity of the condition and the patient’s individual needs. 

Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy can help improve your mobility, strength, and flexibility. It can also help reduce pain and prevent further degeneration. Physical therapists use a combination of exercises, stretches, and manual therapy techniques to improve your condition. The focus of physical therapy is on improving core stability, strengthening the muscles surrounding the spine, and improving posture.

Lifestyle Changes 

Making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, improving posture, and incorporating exercise into your routine can help manage symptoms of degenerative disc disease. These changes can also help prevent the condition from getting worse. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, or walking can also help strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine and improve spinal health.

Injection Therapy 

Injection therapy, such as epidural steroid injections or nerve blocks, can help manage pain and inflammation. We can administer these injections at The Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care should they be determined of value to your condition.


In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to treat degenerative disc disease. Surgery is usually considered after non-surgical treatments have been tried and have not provided sufficient relief. There are several surgical options available, including:

  • A discectomy involves removing part or all of the damaged disc to relieve pressure on the surrounding nerves.
  • Spinal fusion involves fusing two or more vertebrae together to stabilize the spine and reduce pain. This procedure is often recommended if the degenerated disc is causing instability in the spine.
  • In some cases, an artificial disc may be implanted to replace the damaged disc and restore mobility. This procedure is often recommended for younger patients with healthy bones who need to maintain spinal flexibility.

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease

Don’t Delay if You are In Pain

With over 20 years of experience in treating degenerative disc disease symptoms, I am a highly accredited medical professional who is dedicated to educating my patients and providing customized treatment plans that reduce pain, enhance mobility, and improve their overall quality of life.

At The Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care, our objective is to collaborate with our patients in designing a comprehensive treatment plan that caters to their unique needs and goals. If you are experiencing pain from degenerative disc disease, schedule a consultation today.

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