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What is Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lumbar degenerative disc disease is a process that happens to the discs of the spine, usually as people age. The discs along the spine are soft and compress easily to protect the vertebrae and absorb shock. Although degenerative disc disease can occur at any place along the spine, it is most often seen in the lumbar region. The lumbar region is the lower portion of the back. It carries the brunt of the weight of the body.

As the body ages, the discs gradually degenerate, or break down. When this process happens in the lower back, it can cause lumbar degenerative disc disease. In addition, there is less fluid in the discs of the spine as people get older; this reduces shock absorption. Also, as the disc degenerates, small cracks may also form in the disc which can case the disc to rupture.

Besides old age, there are several other causes of lumbar degenerative disc disease. For example, people who are obese are particularly susceptible, since their added weight puts undue pressure on the discs. Other factors that may increase the potential for developing lumbar degenerative disc disease include smoking and heavy manual labor, especially if it involves heavy or excessive lifting. In some cases, if a person has a bad fall or other sudden or traumatic injuries, he may also suffer from lumbar degenerative disc disease.

Interestingly, not everyone will experience pain if they develop lumbar degenerative disc disease. In some cases, a person may have little or no pain. Others may experience debilitating pain. It can affect their lives and limit their daily activities. In most cases, if the degenerative disc disease is in the lower back area, the person will experience pain, numbness, or tingling in the back, legs, or even the buttocks.

A medical doctor will diagnose whether the symptoms that a person experiences is indeed lumbar degenerative disc disease. Initially, the doctor may ask a lot of questions to determine if there had been any trauma or injury to the back. He may also inquire into activities, hobbies, habits, and prior treatment. After checking the range of motion, he may order an x-ray to see whether there is indeed disc degeneration or whether there is another problem, such as a fracture, a tumor, or only a muscle spasm.

To treat lumbar degenerative disc disease, physical therapy, Pilates, yoga, and simple stretching can do wonders. Sometimes, surgery is recommended, especially is the disc is severely damaged. Through surgery, the damaged disc is removed, and the vertebrae are fused together or an artificial disc is placed in its spot. To reduce the pain associated with a degenerated disc, icing the area and taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may work well, too.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.
Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Jan 31, 2014

@SarahGen-- Don't be so negative. You can definitely find treatments that will relieve your symptoms. Have you received physical therapy? Have you tried alternative treatments like acupuncture and chiropractic treatments?

I also highly recommend meditation. As with all diseases, treatment for degenerative disc disease also has to do with morale. If you keep your morale high, if you stay positive and stay away from stress, then the chances of treatments working will increase. Many scientists and doctors confirm the connection between morale and healing nowadays. If you lose hope, then you will not heal as quickly.

By SarahGen — On Jan 31, 2014

@turquoise-- Yes, young adults may also have lumbar degenerative disc disease. But it won't cause symptoms in everyone, so some people may not know about it until they are older.

Degeneration is due to aging and wear and tear. There are some congenital factors that may cause a patient to experience more symptoms however. A narrow spine (stenosis) is one factor. Some people are born with a narrow spine. So when they start experiencing lumbar degeneration, it might be more debilitating for them than it would be for others.

I have lumbar degeneration. I also have stenosis and a lumbar herniated disc. My doctor was shocked when she saw my MRI. She said she had never seen so much spine narrowing in a young person. I'm only 27. She's not sure about the causes but she said that it's either congenital or due to diabetes.

The sad part is that I don't have much hope of lumbar degenerative disc disease treatment. Any type of exercise can trigger a muscle spasm for me which causes pain and numbness for months.

By turquoise — On Jan 30, 2014

Can younger people have lumbar degenerative disc disease? What are the causes?

Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
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