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General Practice 2023

Degenerative disc disease: what é, causes and treatment

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Degenerative disc disease: what é, causes and treatment
Degenerative disc disease: what é, causes and treatment

Degenerative disc disease is a change commonly found in imaging tests, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography, which means that the intervertebral disc present between each vertebra of the spine is degenerating, that is, losing its original shape, which increases the risk of having a herniated disc, for example.

Therefore, having a degenerative disc disease does not mean that the person has a herniated disc, but that they are at increased risk.


Some features of degenerative disc disease are the presence of:

  • Fibrosis, which causes the disk to become more hardened;
  • Reduced intervertebral space, which makes the disc flatter;
  • Decrease the thickness of the disc, which is thinner than the others;
  • Bulled disc, which causes the disc to appear curved;
  • Osteophytes, which is the growth of small bony structures in the vertebrae of the spine.

These alterations are more frequent in the lumbar region, between the L4-L5 and L3-L4 vertebrae but can affect any region of the spine. When no treatment is performed to improve the quality of the intervertebral disc, the most common consequence is the development of a herniated disc. Dical hernias are most common between the C6-C7, L4-L5 and L5-S1 vertebrae.

What causes disc degeneration

Disc degeneration, as it is also known, happens due to factors such as dehydration of the disc, cracks or ruptures of the disc, which can happen due to a sedentary lifestyle, trauma, vigorous exercise or work with physical effort, in addition to of aging itself. Although it can affect young people, those most affected are over 30-40 years of age.

People who spend many hours sitting and who need to lean forward repetitively throughout the day, such as truck drivers, secretaries and dentists, are more likely to have some spinal disc alteration.

It does not take a major traumatic event to initiate disc degeneration, as it can also develop silently and progressively throughout life.

Main symptoms

Intervertebral disc degeneration may be asymptomatic, especially in younger people who have not yet developed a herniated disc. It is usually discovered on an imaging test, especially an MRI or CT scan. However, there may be symptoms such as back pain that gets worse or with exertion.

Learn the symptoms and treatment for Herniated Disc.

How the treatment is done

It is possible to improve the quality of the disc by completely eliminating pain, if it exists. The treatment to improve the quality of the intervertebral disc consists of two hypotheses: surgery, when there is already a herniated disc, or physical therapy when there is pain and limitation of movements.

Some important guidelines in case of degenerative disc disease, without symptoms and without herniated discs are to preserve the spine, maintaining good posture when walking, sitting, lying down, sleeping and standing. In addition, it is also important to avoid making physical efforts, and whenever you need to lift heavy objects, you should do it correctly, without straining your spine. Practicing physical exercise such as weight training, under professional guidance, 2-3 times a week is suitable for all sedentary people who spend a lot of time in the same position during work. Check out the 7 habits that harm posture and that you should avoid.

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