Understanding Juvenile Degenerative Disc Disease

Often when it comes to chronic back pain or long term back problems such as degenerative disc disease we often think that only the elderly or the middle age suffer from these ailments. While it is true that degenerative disc disease does occur due to a lifetime of wear and tear on the back, this does not mean that those younger than 40 years of age are untouched by this disease.

When the discs in the back begin to deteriorate the pain will increase and sufferers may even experience numbness and a weakness in the lower back, legs and neck. A compressed nerve can cause sufferers intense pain, but oddly enough plenty of people with degenerative disc disease have no symptoms whatsoever. When this happens to those under 21 years old, it is referred to as juvenile degenerative disc disease. 

About DDD

The spine consists of the vertebrae and in between each bone is a tiny sac filled with fluid that we refer to as ‘discs’. Over time as we age or through repeated injuries, those discs grow weak and begin to leak fluid. Whether it is due to the disc being herniated or damaged through other back injuries, the discs begin to degenerate.

The spinal discs are unable to heal without assistance, which is why it is so important to seek medical attention or risk suffering the back pain your entire life. Leaving chronic back pain or acute back pain without treatment is exactly the type of situation that can lead to degenerative disc disease, and even more so in physically active—yet injured—juveniles.

DDD In Juveniles

While degenerative disc disease is not something which you can inherit, there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of disc problems such as heavy lifting, smoking, being physically active or obese.

One of the most common forms of disc deterioration for juveniles is lumbar disc degeneration. The lumbar region is your lower back area and part of this has to do with the common “teenage slouch”. This type of pain starts in the lower back and often radiates down the butt and thighs.

Only 20% of juveniles will experience lumbar disc degeneration, but those who do will begin to experience a rapid deterioration. Although young males will experience this deterioration more rapidly than young females, both genders are equally affected by juvenile DDD.

The onset of degenerative disc disease typically begins around the mid to late twenties, however those with the juvenile version of it will have suffered through chronic back pain throughout their teens. The deterioration can begin as early as mid-teens and it rapidly continues throughout late teens and early twenties. It was once believed that cancer or serious trauma caused juvenile lumbar disc degeneration, but we now know that is not the case.

How To Treat Juvenile Disc Deterioration

Due to the age of the juvenile sufferers it is more important than ever that they receive a diagnosis and treatment right away. At such a young age, these patients have a long life full of pain and suffering ahead of them without any back pain treatment. The discs will continue to deteriorate, and immediate treatment can slow down the deterioration process.

Most patients that have degenerative disc disease are able to seek treatment without resorting to surgery, but for juvenile sufferers surgery is often the best option. Despite the risks associated with surgery, it often provides the best source of relief for these young patients.

Before treatment can begin for lumbar disc deterioration, a diagnosis will need to be made. Typically an MRI is the tool used to diagnose the weakening discs. Since it is likely that juvenile sufferers have been experiencing lower back pain for quite some time, the MRI images will be compared to older images to take note of any changes to the spine, which will ensure the accuracy of the diagnosis.

Treatment for juvenile DDD often includes pain medication and anti-inflammatory medicines along with physical therapy and massage. As I said before, surgery is often a viable option for this young group, however physicians may be reluctant to utilize such an extreme option without exhausting other options first.

Juvenile DDD can wreak havoc on the back, which is why parents are encouraged to watch for signs of lumbar problems and ask questions about the pain so it can be monitored properly. 

Filed Under: Disk Disease
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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16 thoughts on “Understanding Juvenile Degenerative Disc Disease”

  1. Emmel says:

    I was diagnosed with DDD at age 15. I’m now 17 and have some things you can do to help your teenage make it through school with the pain. 1) if you’re child goes to a school where they have to carry around a backpack all day with all their books in it, ask the teachers if they can keep a copy of the books at school and at home. 2) keep a bottle of Advil with the nurse. 3) make aware to the schools principal and othe teachers, your child’s situation.

  2. Steve says:

    Emmel, Thanks for the fee back, those are all good points… My 10 year old use a back pack with wheel as hers is so heavy.


  3. Jen says:

    My 16 year old was just diagnosed with this. We don’t know advised treatment yet. He seems to have the most pain when he has to sit – which is most of the day in school. Any thoughts or advice to help with this?

    1. Manda says:

      Hello Jen, this comment is pretty late in coming, and I certainly hope that you and your son have found the means in which to manage his condition by now, but just in case he happens to having trouble finding something to alleviate his pain, I thought maybe I could offer a couple suggestions from my own experience?

      I’ve had severely debilitating JDDD since I was 15 (I’m 23 now), so I know how hard it can be to sit through class sometimes. I’ve seriously tried just about every treatment option available, and speaking only for how they personally worked for me, I highly suggest that he tries both Physical therapy, and possibly a chiropractor. I actually tried PT a couple times, and it didn’t really help, and ended up getting suggested to a chiropractor by a friend when the doctors had run out of things to suggest (they wanted to avoid surgery since I was so young), and it helped amazingly well! And the PT ended up making a world of difference too, once they started tailoring the exercises to not strengthen the back so much but the HIPS – since most of the pain comes from the sciatic nerve, which runs through the hips, and down the leg etc, when the hips were stronger, it built a much stronger foundation, and the difference in pain was incredible!

      hopefully you’ve already found a treatment plan that is improving his way of life, but I thought I’d put my two cents in just in case, since I know how bad it can seem when all there is is pain without a visible exit on the horizon.

  4. Admin says:

    Hi Jen,

    You may find it useful to get a copy of our back pain book The 7 Day Back Pain Cure. It has a lot of information regarding the back, treatment options and pain relief for you to consider. We hope you find it helpful.


    Thank you
    (The Healthy Back Institute)

  5. Angel Andrews says:

    Im a 45 year old who has JDD. I got side-swiped in 2004 and tore three diiscs in my neck. Then I began the hellish nightmmare with the neck ache/headaches, surgeries, discs replacements, and stemcell injection. If anybody has questions, I probably have the answer. The stemcell injection helped the most. Because I have had this since birth, my discs continue to tear at a faster rate.

    1. Jasmine says:

      I would love to hear more about your stem cell treatment. How many dosages/treatments have you had?
      What sort of changes have you experienced since having the treatment?

    2. Lowri says:

      Hello Angel Andrews,
      I am currently writing my dissertation on JDDD and was wonderig if you (or anyone else) can recommend research/ researchers names as I find it

    3. aimee says:

      My daughter has disc degeneration at every level of her lumbar and thorasic spine. She is in a fair amount of pain. She had her first surgery when she was 15 and her second at 23. She is now 31 and we are perplexed as to where to turn at this point. More laminectomy, fusion (not thought to be a good option) or just pain management which doesnt seem to be working…
      She also wants to get pregnant and is afraid (understandably so)
      Anyone have similar experiences? or solutions?

      1. Joshua says:

        I am 32 and have been dealing with the pain since I was 15 as well. But i went undiagnosed. I hate this. I have been told by 3 different Dr’s NOT to do the surgery at its very best its a 50% sucess rate and thats measured by the rate of pain decrease. But than you will be going in every few years after that to fuse the next level up until there is nothing more to fuse. Mine goes from the neck to the tailbone. Im sorry i guess its not really an answer but just another person in your situation. I was also told a strict P.T./workout regimen to strengthen the core. It should help with the pain but it will never go away fully, is what i was told.

      2. Jessi Lucich says:

        The pregnancy did not worsen my JDD symptoms at all. It was labor that increased my symptoms severely. Speak to your OB about a c- section, which I should have done and advocated for.

    4. vee says:

      I am 23 yrs old with disc dessication in whole lumbar spine
      And herniated discs in whole lumbar spine
      Irregular endplates with schmorls nodes formation

  6. Lowri says:

    * Ups that sent before it was ready!

    So I was wondering if anyone could recommend research/ literature on JDDD as I have trouble finding papers on it.

    Thanks a lot

  7. Sherry Clark says:

    I have JDD. I have been told by multiple specialists that surgery is to be avoided at all costs because the vertebrae/end plates are not strong enough to provide sufficient anchor and surgical intervention can create the need for even further surgeries. Years ago I elected the no surgical option, just concentrated on strengthening and fitness. I am still quite mobile, although I have some pain. A school mate started surgery, has just had her 17th surgery, and is stooped over, in constant pain.

    Please, Please….. review ALL your options, do research via multiple avenues before you make a decision that cannot be reversed!

    1. Christy says:

      My daughter was just diagnosed with JDDD. We have been told there is no treatment options for her. We are heading to a pain initiative clinic and hoping to find some solutions to alleviate her pain so she can half way function again.

      1. Admin says:

        Hi Christy,

        Thank you so much for your comment. You may also wish to consider our Book the 7 Day Back Pain Cure. The book discusses back pain and related issues, treatment options to consider, pain relief suggestions, action plans and other helpful information for coping with pain. You can read more about it via the link below


        Thank you. Our Best Wishes to you and your daughter.
        Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)

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