Degenerative Disc Disease Causes

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) typically refers to the natural breakdown of spinal discs due to age. The condition may also be referred to as “Arthritis of the Spine,” “Discogenic Disease,” or a number of other terms. It is a leading underlying cause of back pain.

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Age-Related Causes of DDD

Each spinal disc has an inner core and an outer layer. The inner core, called the nucleus pulposus, has a high water content and provides the cushioning effect needed to properly protect your spine from trauma and everyday stress and strain. The outer layer — called the annulus fibrosus — is a resistant, cartilage-based material that restrains the nucleus pulposus and allows the disc to maintain its normal shape.

As you grow older, your discs naturally undergo changes in their composition that make them more susceptible to damage. Chief among these changes is loss of water content in each disc’s inner core. This water loss leads to a reduction in the height of your discs; in turn, a reduction of disc height increases the odds that two or more vertebrae in your back will shift their position, rub against each other and destabilize your spine. Unfortunately, the body can respond to these changes by producing growths of new bone tissue (called bone spurs) between neighboring spinal bones. In turn, bone spurs can significantly restrict your back mobility and push against your spinal nerve roots or your spinal cord.

Age-related degeneration also affects your discs’ outer layers. Under the stress of increasing pressure, these fibrous coverings can develop small partial tears in their surfaces. Due to lack of blood flow, the body can’t heal these tears very efficiently. This means that each repaired tear makes the overall disc weaker and more likely to produce problems.


Back injuries are another potential cause of degenerative disc disease. If you sustain such an injury (which has typical sources that include motor vehicles accidents, contact sports and poor posture during strenuous movements), you may experience changes in your spine health that lead directly to the onset of disc degeneration. However, most people affected by injury-related problems already have age-related issues that make their discs weaker than usual.

Genetic Tendencies

Some people inherit a tendency toward disc degeneration through their family bloodlines. This typically means that they have greater chances of experiencing damaging disc change during middle age or even before reaching middle age. You may have inherited problems if multiple family members have received a DDD diagnosis in the past.

Cigarette Smoking and DDD

Among its many other harmful effects on your health, habitual cigarette smoking decreases the amount of water contained in the inner cores of your spinal discs. This lack of moisture doesn’t directly cause degenerative disc disease; however it can increase your rate of age-related disc change and expose you to DDD symptoms at an earlier age.

How is DDD Treated?

DDD treatment depends on you – your specific physiology and how advanced your case is. The North American Spine medical team and your physician will thoroughly evaluate your situation and recommend a treatment plan to provide both maximum relief and minimum recovery time. Treatment plants are grouped into three categories:


Fusion or Stabilization