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Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is commonly associated with aging. As you get older, your discs, like other joints within the body, can degenerate (break down) and become problematic: That’s a natural part of growing older, the body begins to deal with years of strain, overuse, and perhaps even misuse.

Nonetheless, DDD can appear in people as young as 20, so regrettably, youth doesn’t always protect you from this disc-related spinal condition. In fact, some patients may inherit a prematurely aging spine.

Degenerative disc disease involves the intervertebral discs, or the pillow-like shock absorbers between your vertebrae in your back. These help your back carry weight and permit complex movements of the back while maintaining stability. As you get older, the discs can lose flexibility, elasticity, and shock absorbing features. Additionally they become thinner as they dehydrate. The discs change from a supple state that enables smooth movements into a stiff and rigid state that restricts your movement and causes pain.

You could have degenerative disk disease if you experience chronic back or neck pain. It normally happens in your lower back (lumbar spine) or neck (cervical spine). Developing degenerative disc disease can be a slow process.

How Does Spinal Degeneration Occur?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) can change many parts of your spine. To understand how, you first need a basic knowledge of what makes up your back. First of all, you’ve vertebrae, labeled in the picture below as the “vertebral body.” In your back, or vertebral column, you have 33 vertebrae.

Your spine is split into separate areas:

  • Neck (cervical spine)
  • Mid-back (thoracic spine)
  • Low back (lumbar spine)
  • At the low end of your back, you additionally possess the sacrum and also the coccyx, which is often called your tailbone.

Degenerative disc disease is most likely to occur in your lumbar spine or your cervical spine.

Intervertebral Discs

In between your vertebrae, you have intervertebral discs. These act like shock absorbers or pads on your back as it moves. Each disc is composed of a tire-like outer band known as the annulus fibrosus and a gel-like inner substance called the nucleus pulposus. Degenerative disc disease alters the discs and makes them less able to cushion the movements of the spine. With DDD, your intervertebral discs also become more vulnerable to injuries or conditions; they may bulge or herniate.

Together, the vertebrae and the discs provide a protective tunnel (the spinal canal) to where the spinal cord and spinal nerves are placed. These nerves run down the center of the spine and the vertebrae to various portions of the body, where they help you move and feel.

Facet Joints

Your spine also consists of facet joints, which are joints located to the posterior side (back) of your vertebrae. These joints (like all joints in your body) help facilitate movements and are extremely important to your flexibility.


Your spinal joints are covered by cartilage, which shields your bones as you move. Without cartilage, your bones would rub together and could be very painful. Unfortunately, your cartilage might be affected by general damage on your own back, plus it may wear away. That’s when bone spurs (osteophytes) can form as your body attempts to repair itself.

Muscles, Blood Vessels, and Ligaments, Tendons

Your back additionally has ligaments muscles, tendons, and arteries. Muscles are fibrils of tissues that power your motion. Ligaments are the powerful, flexible bands of fibrous tissue that link the bones together, and tendons connect muscles to bones. Blood vessels provide nourishment. These parts all work together that will help you move.

Further Concerns Regarding Degenerative Disc Disease

What is DDD?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) isn’t really a disorder�it is the regular wear and tear process of aging on your spine. Unfortunately, as we age, our intervertebral discs (pillow-like pads involving the bones in your spine) lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock-absorbing features. When this happens, the disks shift from a supple, flexible state which allows flowing motion, into a rigid and stiff state that limits your movement.

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is generally the result of aging, and that means you are more inclined to have it if you’re older than 50. However, younger people can have symptoms of DDD as well. Injuries also can start the process that is degenerative .

The degenerative process causes your discs to lose their capability to cushion your moves. Slowly, the collagen (protein) structure of the outer portion of your disk�the annulus fibrosus�weakens. The degenerative process also affects the water content in your discs, as well as the water content is a must to preserving movement. With the water, DDD -attracting molecules in your disks decrease, making your disks become inflexible and more stiff.

Are There Non-Surgical Options to Treat DDD?

You can attempt, to help deal with pain from degenerative disc disease:

  • bed rest (only several days)
  • restricting your actions that boost the pain
  • light exercise (walking, swimming, etc) as recommended by your doctor
  • Over the counter medications
  • prescription medications

When Should Surgery Be Considered for DDD?

Although degenerative disc disease patients respond well to non-operative treatments, some patients do need surgery. Surgery should really be considered only after you have tried several months of non-operative treatment. You surgeon will recommend the best kind of operation for you. Here are a few common sorts of surgery used for patients with DDD:

  • Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF)
  • Foraminotomy
  • Microdiscectomy

The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic and spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss options on the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900

By Dr. Alex Jimenez

Additional Topics: What is Chiropractic?

Chiropractic care is an well-known, alternative treatment option utilized to prevent, diagnose and treat a variety of injuries and conditions associated with the spine, primarily subluxations or spinal misalignments. Chiropractic focuses on restoring and maintaining the overall health and wellness of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Through the use of spinal adjustments and manual manipulations, a chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic, can carefully re-align the spine, improving a patient�s strength, mobility and flexibility.


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The information herein on "How Degenerative Disc Disease Begins to Affect the Spine" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*


Licensed as a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) in Texas & New Mexico*
Texas DC License # TX5807, New Mexico DC License # NM-DC2182

Licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN*) in Florida
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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