What Conditions Cause Degenerative Disc Disease?

As we age there are many parts of the human body that deteriorate over time. This is particularly true if you have been a lifelong or long-term back pain sufferer. The discs in the spine deteriorate over time so by the time we reach old age they are damaged enough to fall under the degenerative disc disease (DDD) category.

In fact degenerative disc disease is not a disease in the traditional sense of the word, but rather it just describes the typical changes that occur in spinal discs over a lifetime. Although degenerative disc disease can occur in any part of the spine, it most often occurs in the lumbar region (lower back) or the neck. 

Spinal discs absorb shock to the spine, to prevent injury or trauma when we perform everyday movements like twisting, flexing and bending. As you can imagine, over a lifetime these discs experience a lot of wear and tear. Back pain, particularly pain that occurs as a source of disc problems, can really take a beating over time.


There are two main ways in which degenerative disc disease occurs. The first is a loss of fluid in the discs. This makes the discs less flexible and makes them less effective shock absorbers. When the discs get thinner and there becomes less space between the vertebrae, you become at greater risk of degenerative disc disease.

The other cause is cracks and tears in the outer layers of the spinal discs. These cracks allows the gel-like material inside the nucleus of the disc to leak out, which can lead to bulging discs, ruptured discs and fragmented discs.

Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition in which one vertebrae slips backward or forward, relative to the next vertebrae. This condition can cause a compression of nerve roots and cartilage deterioration. In addition to causing pain to your sciatic nerve, this can lead to further deterioration of the spinal discs.

Many of the symptoms of degenerative disc disease mirror those of sciatica, and that is partially because sciatica is one of the main symptoms of degenerative disease. Of course this doesn’t mean that every person who suffers from sciatica will end up with DDD. Because of this though, there are several medical problems related to sciatica that can cause degenerative disc disease.

Lordosis occurs when the lumbar or cervical vertebrae (lower back or neck) column is partially curved. This can manifest as a weak leg or thigh, an area often affected by sciatica. This curvature can lead to spinal degradation over time, which may eventually lead to degenerative disc disease.

Any changes to the discs that occur can increase the chances of getting DDD. Several conditions in particular may cause degenerative disc disease, and these are quite common.

A herniated disc is an abnormal bulge or bursting of a spinal disc. Even once a herniated disc has been fixed with surgery, the destruction to the disc will continue over time. Each movement you make over the years is slowly causing your disc to slowly deteriorate.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between your joints breakdown. When this occurs in the lumbar region, the spinal discs are not being protected or cushioned from general movement. This means that every step you take, every twist and bend is putting stress on your discs.

Spinal stenosis causes the spinal canal to narrow, which causes tension and pressure to the spinal cord. The decrease in the space accorded to the spinal cord forces more friction between the discs as you move. As the space decreases around the spinal cord, bone spurs will develop which put additional pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Other Causes Of DDD

There are also many lifestyle factors that can lead to conditions that cause degenerative disc disease. For example those who work in physical industries like construction workers and garbage men are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis or a herniated disc.

In fact obese people and those who smoke cigarettes are more likely to have symptoms of degenerative disc disease, likely due to a sedentary lifestyle.

Treat these conditions by treating the symptoms including back pain and neck pain. Traditional back pain treatments may work, but you will need to consult with a physician to relieve pain due to sciatica or degenerative disc disease. 

Filed Under: Back Pain
Written By:  Updated:
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Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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