Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal age-related changes in your spinal discs as you age. The discs act as “shock absorbers” for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend, and twist. Degenerative disc disease can take place throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region). What causes degenerative disc disease? As we age, our spinal discs break down, or degenerate, which may result in degenerative disc disease in some people. These age-related changes include loss of fluid in the disc and tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer (annulus or capsule) of the the disc. These changes alone do not result in pain. If pain results it is do to inflammation or abnormal micromotion instability.
If degenerative disc disease is part of the normal aging process and may not result in pain, how is it determined that the disc is the source of the pain? This is done by a procedure called a discogram. A discogram is a procedure where normal and abnormal discs are “pressurized” independently in hopes that the pain is only reproduced when the abnormal disc is “pressurized.”
Treatment options include medications, physical therapy and injections. The injection that is used typically to treat this condition is an epidural.