Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back pain, and also one of the most misunderstood. Many patients diagnosed with low back pain caused by degenerative disc disease are left wondering exactly what this diagnosis means for them. Common questions that are often on patients’ minds include:
Along with MRI scan results that show disc degeneration, there are some common symptoms that are fairly consistent for people with lower back pain from degenerative disc disease. The typical individual with degenerative disc disease is an active and otherwise healthy person who is in their thirties or forties. In general, the patient’s pain should not be continuous and severe. If it is, then other diagnoses must be considered. Degenerative disc disease pain is usually more related to activity and will flare up at times but then return to a low grade pain level or the pain will go away entirely.
A large part of many patients’ confusion is that the term “degenerative disc disease” sounds like a progressive, very threatening condition. However, this condition is not strictly degenerative and is not really a disease:
Disc degeneration is a natural part of aging and over time all people will exhibit changes in their discs consistent with a greater or lesser degree of degeneration. However, not all people will develop symptoms. In fact, degenerative disc disease is quite variable in its nature and severity.
Finally, many patients are confused about degenerative disc disease because many medical professionals don’t agree on what the phrase describes.
In practical terms, this means that few practitioners agree on what does and does not constitute a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. Even medical textbooks don’t usually attempt to give an accurate description. Therefore, while many practitioners believe that degenerative disc disease is a common cause of low back pain in young adults, very few agree on the implications.