When a disc degenerates it is often referred to as degenerative disc disease. The term “disease” in this case does not mean that there is any life threatening or contagious condition. Rather, degenerative disc disease refers to a disc that is losing water content and is wearing out. This typically happens with age and will happen to all of us in time to varying degrees. A degenerated disc is something that occurs as you get older and it is considered to be a normal change that takes place in the spinal disc.
The discs that are in the spine are compressible and soft and they exist between the vertebrae in order to help the spine move properly. The discs are in between each spinal bone (vertebrae). They act as a shock absorber and allow our body to twist and bend properly. When you have a degenerative disc you often experience stiffness, limited motion and neck or back pain.
When discs degenerate you can often develop bone spurs as you body attempts to fuse the two vertebrae around the bad disc to limit painful motion through that disc. The bone spurs can often migrate back into the spinal nerves pinching them and cause arm or leg symptoms. When the disc tears (annular tear) you may experience extreme neck or back pain as the discs themselves have nerves that innervate them. Degenerative discs can lead to bulging and herniated discs which take up space in the spinal canal and pinch nerves. This is referred to as spinal stenosis.
Degenerative disc disease is often best treated with conservative measures such as non-narcotic pain medications, physical therapy to strength ones core muscles to take the pressure off the spine and discs. Traction and spinal decompression may be of benefit as well. When all these treatments fail a minimally invasive spinal non-fusion or fusion procedure may be necessary to alleviate the symptoms. These procedures are accomplished through tubes that spread the muscles instead of tearing and stripping tissue. The recovery with minimally invasive surgery is much easier on the body with quicker healing times.