Understanding Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease

Lumbar degenerative disc disease occurs when a compromised disc in the lower back causes back pain and/or pain and numbness that radiates down the legs. As a result of normal wear and tear, many people's discs will degenerate over time, but not everyone will experience symptoms.

A new video in our Spine-health Videos Library will help you understand this condition.

Watch Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Video

Video highlights

This image is a close-up of the lumbar spine, showing the vertebrae separated by discs. The discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae.

They allow the vertebrae to twist and bend. These discs may start to break down over time, usually as a result of the aging process.

See Spinal Discs

This image shows the annulus fibrosus: the strong, outer portion of the spinal disc. As a disc starts to degenerate, this strong outer coating begins to break down.

The soft inner core of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus, may leak out as a result of the breakdown.

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As the disc breaks down, it releases proteins (shown here as white specks) that irritate the surrounding nerves and cause inflammation and pain.

While most people's discs will undergo changes like this over time, not everyone will experience symptoms. Symptoms most commonly occur in people between the ages of 30-50.

If there are symptoms, the pain is usually tolerable. Flare-ups may last for a few days or more.The pain is normally located in the lower back, but it may also radiate into the hips and legs. The pain is usually worse when you are sitting.

When degenerated discs cannot properly absorb stress, this leads to abnormal movement along the vertebral segment. As the back muscles work to stabilize the spine, they may spasm painfully. If the disc space collapses enough to compress a nerve root, leg pain, known as radiculopathy, may occur.

See Lumbar Radiculopathy

As inflammatory proteins decrease and the disc collapses into a stable position with time, low back pain usually goes away.

If pain persists, there are many treatment options. To learn more about treatment options, see Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments.

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