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- Degenerative disc disease and sciatica facts
- How is the spine designed?
- What is the purpose of the spine and its discs?
- What causes degenerative disc disease?
- What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
- What are radiculopathy and sciatica? What are the symptoms?
- How are degenerative disc disease, radiculopathy, and sciatica diagnosed?
- How is radiculopathy treated?
- What is bony encroachment and spinal stenosis?
- What is the outlook (prognosis) of degenerative disc disease, radiculopathy, and sciatica?
- Can degenerative disc disease, radiculopathy, and sciatica be prevented?
Quick GuideSciatica Symptoms, Causes, Treatments
What causes degenerative disc disease?
As we age, the water and protein content of the cartilage of the body changes. This change results in weaker, more fragile, and thin cartilage. Because both the discs and the joints that stack the vertebrae (facet joints) are partly composed of cartilage, these areas are subject to wear and tear over time (degenerative changes). The gradual deterioration of the disc between the vertebrae is referred to as degenerative disc disease, sometimes abbreviated DDD. Wear of the facet cartilage and the bony changes of the adjacent joint is referred to as degenerative facet joint disease or osteoarthritis of the spine. Trauma injury to the spine can also lead to degenerative disc disease.
Degeneration of the disc space and its contents is medically referred to as spondylosis. Spondylosis can be noted on X-ray tests or MRI scanning of the spine as a narrowing of the normal "disc space" between the adjacent vertebrae.
What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
Degeneration of the disc tissue makes the disc more susceptible to herniation. Degeneration of the disc can cause local pain in the affected area. Any level of the spine can be affected by disc degeneration. When disc degeneration affects the spine of the neck, it is referred to as cervical disc disease. When the mid-back is affected, the condition is referred to as thoracic disc disease. Disc degeneration that affects the lumbar spine can cause low back pain (referred to as lumbago) or irritation of a spinal nerve to cause pain radiating down the leg (sciatica). Lumbago causes pain localized to the low back and is common in older people. Degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) of the facet joints that can be detected with plain X-ray testing is also a cause of localized lumbar pain. The pain from degenerative disc or joint disease of the spine is usually treated conservatively with intermittent heat, rest, rehabilitative exercises, and medications to relieve pain, muscle spasm, and inflammation.