Have you ever experienced back pain?

Have you ever experienced back pain?  Do you have difficulty sitting for long periods of time without repositioning?  Did you ever wonder what might cause this discomfort?

Millions of Americans cope with back pain on a daily basis.  Frequently, back pain is only temporary, but sometimes it’s chronic.

A Common Cause of Chronic Back Pain

Frequently, degenerative Disc Disease, or DDD, causes chronic back pain.  DDD doesn’t actually qualify as a disease; the term represents a natural process associated with aging. Most people over age of 60 have some degree of DDD.

Degenerative Disc Disease occurs when your intervertebral discs (located between your vertebrae) lose their flexibility and elasticity.  The discs act as cushions and are filled with a gelatinous fluid called nucleus pulposus.  Your discs contain around 80% percent fluid at birth, but as you age, this fluid dries out causing them to shrink.  In some cases, the tough outer layer of the disc, called the annulus fibrosus, cracks allowing the fluid to seep out.

These symptoms can cause mild to severe back pain, most notably in the cervical and lumbar areas of the back.

Unfortunately, the discs cannot repair themselves because of minimal blood supply to the area.  This inability to self-heal and regenerate leads to degeneration.

What Causes DDD?

Several Factors Play a Role in Causing Degenerative Disc Disease.

Aging represents the most common cause of DDD.  Healthy discs can carry and sustain the constant pressure and stress of day-to-day movement.  As you age, the discs lose their shock-absorbing properties through repetitive wear and tear over many years.

Genetics also play an important role in a person’s susceptibility to DDD.  If someone in your family has DDD, there’s a strong chance you will develop it as well.

Repetitive motion can speed up the process of DDD.  If your work requires that you use unnatural motions, or if you commonly use incorrect body mechanics when bending and lifting, you may experience back pain related to DDD at an earlier age than most people.

Accidents, either recent or in the past, involving sustained trauma or injury to your back may have resulted in a herniated disc, which can lead to DDD.

Smokers may experience DDD earlier because smoking leads to a decreased amount of fluid in the discs.  Yet another reason to quit smoking now.

Obesity causes undue stress on the spine, frequently leading to DDD.

Bulge, Protrusion and Herniation: Important Back Injury Terms

Image of bulging and herniated discs.

The terms bulge, protrusion and herniation refer to three different stages of disc degeneration.  But people often use them interchangeably and, thus incorrectly, when speaking about DDD.


Bulging occurs in the first stage of DDD. A bulge appears when the nucleus pulposus begins pushing against the walls of the annulus fibrosus, thereby creating a bulge in the disc.



Protrusion occurs in the second stage and appears as a more severe case of bulging that pushes the disc further into the spinal column.


Herniation occurs when the walls of the disc crack and allow fluid to seep out.  This is the third and final stage of DDD.  When this happens, the fluid comes into contact with the nerves in the spinal column and can cause severe discomfort.  Doctors commonly refer to herniation as a herniated or slipped disc.

Living with DDD

Doctors cannot reverse the effects of DDD, but there are ways to mitigate the pain associated with it.

Consult your physician about your back pain.  He may order X-rays or an MRI to locate and diagnose the exact problem.  If you receive a diagnosis of DDD, the doctor may prescribe bed rest, medication, physical therapy and/or orthopedic support devices.  In the worst-case scenario, you may need surgery to repair the damaged disc(s).

In either case, you will usually experience at least some degree of relief from these remedies and go on to live a healthy and active life.


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