Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is part of the natural process of growing older. As we age, our intervertebral discs lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock absorbing characteristics. The outer fibers that surround the disc, called the annulus fibrosis, become brittle and are more easily torn. At the same time, the soft gel-like center of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus, starts to dry out and shrink. The combination of damage to the intervertebral discs, the development of bone spurs and the gradual thickening of the ligaments that support the spine can all contribute to degenerative arthritis of the spine.



Not everyone who has degenerative disc disease has symptoms such as pain.  It can cause several different symptoms depending on where your degenerative disc is located and which nerves are affected. Symptoms include:

  • Back pain
  • Radiating leg pain
  • Neck pain
  • Radiating arm pain

These symptoms are caused by the discs not functioning as well as they once did.  As they lose their flexibility and size, the space available for the nerve roots is decreased and the spine becomes less flexible, resulting in back pain and stiffness, especially towards the end of the day.


  • complete physical examination including testing flexibility, range of motion, and signs that suggest nerve damage.
  • X-rays
  • MRI (to assess health of the disc) or a CT scan (to assess the spine)


For most people who do not have evidence of nerve root compression, conservative, non-surgical therapies, such as medication, rest, exercise and physical therapy, are typically recommended.  If however conservative measures have failed your neurosurgeon may determine that surgery is the best option for your individual condition.  Your neurosurgeon will discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with you, and the likely results of operative versus non-operative treatment.

Surgical Treatments

Content adapted from Medtronic Catalyst patient education

Contact us today to schedule your consultation appointment.