Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a condition that is commonly misunderstood. A degenerated disc is not actually a disease—it is part of the normal aging of the spine. When a spinal disc degenerates, it loses its ability to function efficiently as part of the spinal joint, which in turn can lead to back pain and possibly pain that radiates through the extremities.


Pain from a degenerating disc can range anywhere from a dull ache to something so intense that it limits movement and activities. In most cases, the pain will subside within a few weeks or months as chemical inflammation of the disc material starts to subside, and/or the disc stabilizes into it new stable position.

There are several symptoms that are fairly consistent for people with lower back pain or neck pain from degenerative disc disease, including:
  • Pain that is usually related to activity and will flare up at times but then return to a low-grade pain level, or the pain will go away entirely
  • The amount of pain is quite variable between individuals and can range from almost no pain/just a nagging level of irritation, to severe and disabling pain
  • Severe episodes of back or neck pain that will generally last from a few days to a few months before returning to the individual's baseline level of chronic pain
  • Chronic pain that is completely disabling from degenerative disc disease does happen in some cases, but is relatively rare
  • Activities that involve bending, lifting, and twisting will usually make the patient's pain worse
  • Walking, and even running, may actually feel better than prolonged sitting or standing
  • Patients will generally feel better if they can change positions frequently
  • Patients with degenerative disc disease will generally feel better lying in a reclining position (such as with legs propped up in a recliner), or lying down with a pillow under the knees, since these positions relieve stress on the lumbar disc space

For most people, degenerative disc disease can be successfully treated with conservative (meaning non-surgical) care consisting of medication to control inflammation and pain (steroid medications delivered either orally or through an epidural injections), and physical therapy and exercise.

Surgery or interventional treatment with epidural steroid injections is considered when patients have not achieved relief over six months of nonsurgical care and/or are significantly constrained in performing everyday activities.

At Restore Medical Partners, we will complete a thorough review of your history and ask patients to describe the location, severity and type of pain, in addition to the history of the pain: when the patient started to feel it, and any activities or positions that make the pain better or worse. We will review your MRI or order imaging if you do not have imaging completed on your first visit. Then, we will explain to you what is causing your low back pain. Our goal is to prevent major surgery and use minor interventional techniques to relieve your pain and get you back to doing the things you enjoy. For disc degeneration causing low back pain, we may recommend an epidural steroid injection. Some patients may require a combination of techniques to completely resolve your pain symptoms.