Degenerative Disc Disease

The intervertebral discs are soft structures which sit between the spinal bones (vertebrae). With age or injury, these may deteriorate.

During early adulthood, a normal intervertebral disc contains a large amount of water, which gives it many of its important properties.

With age, the water content of the disc reduces, and the disc loses some of its height. The disc may bulge, and additional bone may form at the edges of the vertebrae and discs (osteophytes). As a result of this process, the spinal canal and forminae (tunnels for the spinal nerves) can narrow, resulting in pressure on the nerves and/or spinal cord.


Degenerative disc disease may occur as a result of:

  • Age
  • Wear and tear
  • Trauma
  • Poor posture


Most cases of disc degeneration are not associated with pain or other symptoms.

The symptoms of degenerative disc disease vary, and may include:

  • Arm pain, tingling and/or weakness
  • Back pain
  • Hand clumsiness
  • Headaches
  • Leg pain, tingling and/or weakness
  • Neck pain
  • Problems with walking (‘gait disturbance’)


Degenerative disc disease is usually diagnosed using a combination of the following:

  • Taking a history of your symptoms (asking you a number of questions and getting you to fill out some forms and pain charts)
  • Performing a physical examination
  • Carrying out some special tests or investigations, including X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and bone scans


Degenerative disc disease may be treated with a variety of options, including:

  • Acupuncture
  • Advice about posture, exercise, and activities to avoid
  • Chiropractic
  • Clinical pilates
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Massage
  • Medications for pain
  • Osteopathy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Psychology
  • Surgery