As we age, our spinal discs break down, or degenerate, which may result in degenerative disc disease in some people. These age-related changes include:
The loss of fluid in your discs.
This reduces the ability of the discs to act as shock absorbers and makes them less flexible. Loss of fluid also makes the disc thinner and narrows the distance between the vertebrae.
Tears in the outer layer of the disc.
The jellylike material inside the disc, or the nucleus, may be forced out through the tears in the capsule, which causes the disc to bulge, rupture, or break into fragments.
Degenerative disc disease is diagnosed with a physical exam, after which your doctor will suggest a treatment. Treatment typically includes:
Ice or heat on the affected area.
This will relieve pain, as well as the use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen or naproxen). Your doctor can prescribe stronger medicines if needed.
Severe cases may require more.
If you develop health problems such as osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or spinal stenosis, you may need other treatments. These include physical therapy and exercises for strengthening and stretching the back.