Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a condition that can develop in all sections of the spine, due to wear and tear in the cushioning discs that sit between your vertabrae and protect them from being damaged.

Degeneration in the discs of the spine is a natural occurrence that progresses with age, but some people have more severe degeneration due to genetics, lifestyle, or injury. Each cushioning disc in your spine contains a gel-like interior surrounded by a tough covering. Typically, problems begin when there are tears in the tough covering and scar tissue forms. This scar tissue has less structural integrity than the healthy tissue, and over time, repeated tearing or scarring in more than one place can cause the entire disc to weaken. When the disc weakens, it begins to lose its water content and the ability to properly cushion and protect your spine. Weakness can also cause the disc to tear, bulge, or herniate and compress a nerve root, causing pain.

Typically, the first symptom of degenerative disc disease is pain in the lower back (lumbar spine) that extends down into the buttocks and the upper parts of the thighs. Bone spurs or bulging/herniated discs may also be present, compressing nerves and triggering the onset of additional symptoms such as tingling, numbness, or burning in the same areas. Disc degeneration in the neck (cervical spine), can cause similar symptoms in the neck, arms and hands, especially when standing or moving the head, and loss of mobility. While degeneration can also occur in the upper back (thoracic spine), symptoms are less common in this section of the spine.


North American Spine partner physicians have the broadest range of minimally invasive solutions for your back or neck pain. Depending on the location and severity of your pain, your treatment will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Decompression: Minimally invasive decompression surgery aims to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. This pressure can be caused by many conditions. Using a surgical laser, if necessary, soft tissue will be removed and pressure on nerves will be relieved. For more on decompression, see Decompression.
  • Stabilization/Fusion: Minimally invasive stabilization/fusion surgery aims to restore spinal stability lost to collapsed discs. Diseased material is removed and stability is regained by fusing vertebrae or replacing diseased material with specialized hardware. For more on stabilization, see Stablization
  • Injections: Injections aim to reduce inflammation, block pain, and/or aid in the regeneration of healthy nerve passages. These procedures often are not permanent solutions, but they may be repeated when pain returns. They are extremely quick procedures with virtually no recovery time.
  • Other Procedures: North American Spine partner physicians may suggest other types of procedures, including the placement of a Spinal Cord Stimulator, an implanted device that blocks the pain signals created by a variety of conditions. For more on our other procedures, see Other Procedures.
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