Degenerative disc disease is when natural changes in the discs of your spine cause pain. The discs between vertebrae act as shock absorbers for your spine, and as you age, they begin to lose flexibility. While this is a normal part of aging, it should not cause pain. If you experience pain due to this, it is classified as degenerative disc disease.
Each disc is composed of a sturdy outer wall and a soft, gel-like inner core. When we are born, these discs are primarily composed of water, but as age advances, the discs lose some of this water content and begin to get thinner. As you might imagine, this means each disc doesn’t absorb the shocks of everyday life as well.
Additionally, vertebral discs can develop small cracks as a result of regular, daily movement. The outer wall of each disc contains nerves, and these tiny tears or cracks can lead to pain. Depending on the severity of the crack, the soft, inner core may also begin to squeeze out, resulting in discs that bulge, which may also press on nearby nerves and cause pain.
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease may include pain that:
- Occurs in your lower back, buttocks, or upper thighs
- Gets worse when you sit, but improves with walking and moving
- Gets worse if you bend, lift, or twist
- Comes and goes, ranges from minor to severe, and lasts from days to months
- Improves if you change positions or lie down