Degenerative disk disease occurs when the cushioning in your spine begins to wear away. The condition is most common in older adults. After age 40, most people experience some spinal degeneration. The right treatment can lead to pain relief and increased mobility.
Degenerative disk disease is when your spinal disks wear down. Spinal disks are rubbery cushions between your vertebrae (bones in your spinal column). They act as shock absorbers and help you move, bend and twist comfortably. Everyone’s spinal disks degenerate over time and is a normal part of aging.
When the cushions wear away, the bones can start to rub together. This contact can cause pain and other problems, such as:
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Almost everyone has some disk degeneration after age 40, even if they don’t develop symptoms. It can lead to back pain in about 5% of adults.
Degenerative disk disease is most common in older adults. Some factors increase your risk of developing degenerative disk disease, including:
The most common symptoms of degenerative disk disease are neck pain and back pain. You may experience pain that:
Spinal disks wear down as a normal part of aging. Especially after age 40, most people experience some disk degeneration. However, not everyone experiences pain.
You might have pain if your spinal disks:
Degenerative disk pain:
To diagnose degenerative disk disease, your healthcare provider may start by asking you about your symptoms. Questions may include:
Your healthcare provider may use imaging scans such as X-ray, CT or MRI. These tests can show your healthcare provider the state and alignment of your disks. Your provider may also conduct a physical exam to check your:
Usually, your healthcare provider will recommend noninvasive treatment options first. Your treatment may include:
Some people find pain relief through at-home remedies. At-home treatments may decrease pain for a short time. But they are not a long-term treatment for severely degenerated disks. You may try:
Many patients do not need surgery for degenerative disk disease. But if you have tried multiple nonsurgical treatments and have persistent pain and/or weakness, surgery may be a good option.
Or your surgeon may use one of a few types of spinal decompression surgery:
You can prevent or slow the progression of spinal degeneration through lifestyle changes. Some of these include:
Many people use nonsurgical and at-home treatments to manage pain long-term. If you have mild to moderate back pain, you will need to continue treatment to keep the pain at bay.
Most people who have surgery for degenerative disk disease experience long-term pain relief. Even after surgery, you need to continue exercising and stretching to keep your back strong and healthy.
Degenerated disks can increase your risk of developing other spinal conditions. Common spine problems include:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Degenerative disk disease occurs when your spinal disks break down. When these disks wear out, people typically experience back pain and stiffness. You may find pain relief with nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy and spinal injection. For some people, home remedies like hot and cold therapy can decrease pain. When pain is severe, you may benefit from spinal injections or spine surgery. A spine specialist can help you determine which treatment is best for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/27/2021.
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