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Lumbar degenerative disc disease is a condition that sometimes causes low back pain or radiating pain from damaged discs in the spine. A lumbar spinal disc acts as a shock absorber between vertebrae, and allows the joints in the spine to move easily.
The strong, fibrous outer portion of a spinal disc, known as the annulus fibrosus, contains the soft inner core of the disc, the nucleus pulposus.
Each person’s spinal discs undergo degenerative changes as they age, but not all people will experience symptoms as a result of these changes. Symptoms are most commonly seen in 30 to 50 year olds.
Pain from degenerative disc disease is usually tolerable, with flare-ups that last for a few days or more. It is normally felt in the lower back, but it can radiate into the hips and legs. The pain tends to be worse when sitting, as the discs have to bear a heavier load.
One way degenerative disc disease causes pain is through inflammation of the nerves. When the outer part of a disc breaks down, the inner portion of the disc can leak out, releasing proteins that irritate surrounding nerves. Another cause of pain is when degenerated discs cannot properly absorb stress, leading to abnormal movement along the vertebral segment. Back muscles may spasm painfully in order to stabilize the spine.
In some cases, the disc space may collapse enough to compress a nerve root, leading to leg pain known as radiculopathy. Low back pain from degenerative disc disease often goes away with time as inflammatory proteins decrease and the disc collapses into a stable position.