What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease. 

 June 10, 2024

By  Linda Rook

The Spine


You may be thinking that why am I doing a blog on degenerative disc disease or DDD, as it has nothing to do with arthritis.  

However DDD can be caused by spinal osteoarthritis.  The only difference is that the DDD is, what happens to the spinal discs. The changes in the discs could lead to arthritis or sciatica which is another form of arthritis.

When you develop DDD you may get a pain sensation that we all come across at some point in our lives. It is an important part of our existence, as it is a warning sign, and a protector.

Degenerative Disc Disease is a common condition affecting millions of people worldwide.  There is often confusion between Degenerative Disc Disease and pain.

In this blog I shall explore the mechanisms and factors involved in whether degenerative disc disease causes pain. I shall also explain how pain works, and why is it crucial for our survival and quality of life. Also delve into the complex system of pain, finding out its definitions, and types.

Stand with your spine straight.

What Are Intervertebral Discs?

Your intervertebral discs are a vital part of the spine, it acts as a cushion between the bones called the vertebrae, this allows flexibility when you move your body.

Your discs overtime degenerates because it is due to ageing, repetitive stress, or you could have injured your back, that can start the discs to deteriorate.

Other causes of degeneration could be loss of hydration, decreased disc height, or if you get small tears or cracks in the outer layer.

Understanding Degenerative Disc Disease.

Despite its name ‘degenerative disc disease’ is not actually a disease, but a condition that is a natural ageing and wearing away the spinal discs.

Anatomy of the Spine and Discs.

The spine is a intricate structure that is made up of bones, joints, muscles, and nerves, that provides your body support, movement, and it protects the spinal cord.

Your spine is divided into three regions that help you move, they are:

  • Cervical Spine: This is in the neck area, with seven vertebrae (C1-C7).
  • Thoracic Spine:  this lies in the upper and mid-back area, with twelve vertebrae (T1-T12).
  • Lumbar Spine: and this is in the lower back area, with five vertebrae (L1-L5).

You have also discs called the intervertebral discs that are found between each pair of vertebrae, they act as cushions that absorb any shock and provide flexibility.

Each of these discs has two parts:

  • Annulus Fibrosus:  This is a tough, outer layer which is made of fibrous tissue rings, that provide strength and stability.
  • Nucleus Pulposus:  These have soft, gel-like centre that cushions and allows for spinal movement and flexibility.


Causes and Risk Factors.

Overtime your spinal discs change and start to decline.

 Several factors contribute to this:

  • Aging: The main factor of this condition is when the discs lose water content, as we get older, therefore this makes them less flexible and more inclined to damage.
  • Genetics: if any of your family history has disc problems you are at an increased risk of developing the condition.
  • Injury or Trauma: if you have an injury or your work causes repetitive stress on the spine, it can speed up degeneration.
  • Obesity: if you are over weight you could be putting more strain on the spine, leading to disc wear.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: If you are not active your muscles can become weak that is supporting the spine, this can increase the risk of disc problems.
  • Smoking: smoking can reduce your blood flow to the discs, obstructing the repair and maintenance.
Doing house hold chores with painful back
Arthritis pain in shoulder


The symptoms of degenerative disc disease can vary, based on how severe your condition is, and where the affected discs are located.

The common symptoms include:

  • Chronic Back or Neck Pain: 
  • Pain Radiating to Arms or Legs:
  • Stiffness and Reduced Mobility:
  • Muscle Weakness:
  • Worsening Pain with Activity:

Seeing Your Doctor.

When you have been diagnosed degenerative disc disease your doctor may do the following:

  1. The doctor may ask you about your symptoms and any medical history, also if you have any previous injuries or conditions that may cause the pain.
  2. The doctor may also check your range of motion, the strength in your muscle, and if you have any areas of tenderness or pain. They may also perform neurological tests, this means that they look for signs of nerve compression.

      3. They will also take you to have imaging tests that                       include:  

  • X-rays: This shows the bones in the spine.
  • MRI Scan: shows the images of the discs and spinal cord.
  • CT Scan: Can show a cross-section image of the spine.
  • Discography: This involves injection in the spine or dye directly into the spine that shows the level and identifies the affected disc. 
A man in an MRI scan

The Four Stages of Degeneration.

When you develop degenerative disc disease the progression goes through several stages: Understanding these stages may help you to manage the condition and prevent further degeneration.

Early Degeneration.

  • Initial Changes: The discs start to lose water and become less flexible, at this first stage it usually starts in your 20s or 30s.
  • Symptoms: Mild, irregular pain that is often triggered by a certain activities or movements.
  • Management: At this stage you should change your lifestyle, and exercise, also a proper posture can slow disease progression.
shoulder pain

Mild Degeneration.

  • Disc Dehydration and Shrinkage: The discs may lose more water and may shrink, when this happens the space between the vertebrae reduces.
  • Symptoms: You may have more frequent pain,  and could radiate down your legs, arms and other areas, along with stiffness and reduced mobility.
  • Management: At this stage you may be taken to a physical therapy, and given anti-inflammatory medications, with ergonomic adjustments.

Moderate Degeneration.

  • Disc Bulging or Herniation:  At this stage you may experience the outer disc layer weakening, and can lead to bulging or herniation that can compress nearby nerves.
  • Symptoms: Your symptoms can be more persistent, severe pain with numbness, with tingling, or weakness in the arms or legs.
  • Management:  At this third stage you may be given a spinal injections, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and possibly surgery.

Severe Degeneration

  • Advanced Disc Collapse: At this last stage your discs may collapse entirely, meaning that it can cause significant loss of height, between vertebrae and changes in spinal alignment.
  • Symptoms: You may have chronic, severe pain that affects your daily activities.
  • Management: Surgical options like spinal fusion or artificial disc replacement.
Driving with painful back.

Nutrition and Diet in Managing DDD.

You should have a balanced diet that have essential nutrients, that can help to support your disc health and alleviate the symptoms. Also have a healthy diet, such as anti-inflammatory foods, it can help with inflammation.

What is anti-inflammatory foods?

  • Fruit and Vegetables: These are rich in vitamins and antioxidants that reduces the oxidative stress and inflammation. They can include: berries, leafy greens such as broccoli and brussels.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega 3 are in fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, also in flaxseeds, and walnuts. All these have a strong anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Nuts and Seeds: The best ones to eat are almonds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds, are an excellent sources.
  • Herbs and Spices: You can sprinkle you dish with the aroma of turmeric, ginger, and garlic as they have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.

Being hydrated is crucial for keeping overall health, especially of intervertebral discs. You should drink plenty of water throughout the day, this keeps the discs hydrated and functioning optimally.

Elderly Gent with walking stick

Physical Activity and Exercise.

Regular physical activity is vital for maintaining spine health and managing DDD symptoms. It improves flexibility, strengthens spine-supporting muscles, and reduces pain. Important exercises include:

Low-Impact Aerobic Exercises

These exercises improve cardiovascular health and does not put any excessive strain on the spine:

  • Walking: This can be easy to include in your daily routines, it can also improve cardiovascular health.
  • Swimming: Water is buoyant therefore it reduces spinal strain while providing a full-body workout.
  • Cycling:  You should use a stationary bike, as it offers aerobic benefits without high impact on the spine.
  • Others could include Meditation, massage or acupuncture, BUT always go to a professional. 
  • yoga or tai chi,

Other exercises could include:

  • Strength Training: such as core exercises and resistance training.
  • Flexibility and stretching: can improve the flexibility and therefore helps mobility and improves stiffness.
  • Maintain a proper posture and use special chairs at work, if you sit at a desk all day.

Herbal Remedies and Supplements

Certain herbs and supplements can help with your symptoms as it can reduce inflammation and pain, whilst supporting spine health.

The effective remedies include:

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

  • Turmeric: Contains curcumin, which has a strong anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Boswellia: Also known as Indian frankincense, can reduce pain and improves mobility.
  • Willow Bark: This last one contains salicin, which has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.


  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin: These can help maintain disc health.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Available in supplements like fish oil, and they reduce inflammation.
  • Collagen Peptides:  These support the structural integrity of intervertebral discs.


Never start on any supplements before asking your doctor or medical professional first, as they may interfere with some medication that you may be taking.


Understanding degenerative disc disease is important for managing your symptoms and improve your spine health. By recognizing the structure of the spine, the causes and risk factors, and progression of the disease, you can take a positive approach to your health.

With a combination of medical treatments, natural remedies, and lifestyle modifications, it is possible to the disease effectively and maintain a high quality of life. As always, consulting with healthcare professionals is crucial for developing a personalized treatment plan that addresses the unique needs and circumstances of yourself.

I hope this article has helped you. Please subscribe to my website and I will keep you updated on new blogs.  Also, if you need to know anything about arthritis, please go to my contact page and leave a message, where I will get back to you.

In the meantime, if this post is informative, I would be very grateful if you would help your friends or family if they have a similar condition to tell them. So please share it on Twitter (X) or Facebook or send them an email.

Also check out my eBook for more information on this article.

I am not a medical professional, and this blog is for information only. If you have any worries, you should consult your doctor.

I hope this blog has helped.


More Information.



Linda Rook

Linda is now retired and has suffered from Osteoarthritis for about 40+ years.  She struggled with her weight until she found the correct one that also helped with her arthritic pain.  Linda was in terrible pain until the physician thought her right hip needed replacement. 

Now Linda has an artificial right hip, which has left her with the left leg shorter than the right.  Therefore, her spine is now wonky, and has arthritis of the lower back, also it seems to be going all over the body, her pain is now in the knees, elbow, wrist, fingers and both hips.

Linda now spends her days writing information to help others with the same conditions, so they do not suffer like Linda.

related posts:

Natural Ways To Decrease Inflammation.

What Supplements Are Good For Arthritis?

Coping With Pregnancy and Chronic Illness.

Get in touch