Degenerative Disc Disease


April 22, 2016

We treat many patients who have been told their neck or low back pain is due to degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a nonspecific diagnosis used to describe general wear and tear on our intervertebral discs.  An intervertebral disc sits between the bones of the spine and acts to keep them aligned on top of one another, it creates space for our nerves to exit the spine, and it provides cushion between the bones. A disc is comprised of an outer layer of thick elastic-type material called the annulus fibrosus, and an inner jelly-like material called the nucleus pulposus.  As we age, the chemical make-up within the nucleus pulposus changes, which causes it to not retain water or its jelly-like form as well as before.  This reduces the nucleus pulposus’ ability to maintain space, and absorb pressures in the spine.  It often leads to irritation and inflammation of multiple structure within the spine, and ultimately pain.   

Although it has the term disease in the description, DDD does not have to mean a progressive condition. The term is used to describe the changes that have occurred within the disc.  As all of us age, there will be some changes that take place.  Depending on the severity of the changes, it may cause irritation, inflammation and pain to structures within the spine. DDD can cause no pain, intermittent pain, or chronic pain. We often find that impaired postures and poor movement patterns in our daily routines contribute to repeated irritation to these structure, and the continuation of the inflammatory response.

The staff at Portland Physical Therapy excel at determining which postures and movement patterns may be contributing to your pain.  They will develop a program specific to your needs to reduce the pain and prevent recurrent irritation.  A diagnosis of DDD does not have to mean a diagnosis of chronic pain.  If you have questions regarding your neck or low back pain, we encourage you to contact our office for more information.