As a result of normal wear and tear, one or more of your lumbar discs may degenerate over time; but it's possible that you will not experience any symptoms.
Our video walk-through on lumbar degenerative disc disease can help you better understand the causes and symptoms associated with this relatively common condition.
Pictured below is a close-up of the lumbar spine (lower back), showing the individual vertebrae separated by discs. These discs function as shock absorbers between your vertebrae.
Lumbar degenerative disc disease causes
Spinal discs also enable your vertebrae to twist and bend. But as a result of the natural aging process, these discs may start to break down over time.
See Spinal Discs
The image above pictures the annulus fibrosus, which is the strong, outer portion of the spinal disc. As your disc starts to degenerate, this strong outer coating begins to break down.
As a result of this break down, the soft inner core of your disc, called the nucleus pulposus (shown above), may leak out.
As the inner portion of your disc leaks out, proteins are released (pictured above as white specks) that may irritate the surrounding nerves. This in turn can cause inflammation and pain.
As previously stated, most people's discs will undergo degeneration over time, but not everyone will experience symptoms. But symptoms are most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50.
If you do experience symptoms, your pain will typically not be severe. Additionally, your pain will normally be centralized in your lower back, but it may radiate into your hips and legs.
Pain from lumbar degenerative disc disease is usually worse when you are sitting, and flare-ups may last for several days.
Another possible cause of pain is when your degenerated discs can no longer properly absorb stress. This in turn leads to abnormal movement along your vertebral segment. As your back muscles work to stabilize your spine, they may spasm painfully.
Additionally, if your disc space collapses to the point where it compresses a nerve root, leg pain (known as radiculopathy) may occur.
Often times, your pain will subside on its own. But if it does persist, there are multiple treatment options.
For example, your doctor may suggest any of the following conservative treatments:
- Heat and/or cold therapy
- Exercise and/or physical therapy
- Manual manipulation
For most people, a combination of nonsurgical treatments will provide enough relief to allow them to fully participate in their daily activities.