Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a common condition in adults with back pain. Degenerative disc disease can occur in any vertebral joint in the body, but typically occurs in either the low back or neck. DDD is a condition that develops over time and affects the discs between the vertebral bones in the spine. In a study of patients without neck or back pain, 37% of 20-year olds and up to 96% of 80-year olds had DDD but had no complaints of pain. DDD can be a cause for pain, but typically is not the reason for the pain. There may be a deeper reason for your pain than just degenerative disc disease.
The human skull weighs anywhere between eight to fourteen pounds. When the skull is aligned with the body’s center of gravity, the weight distribution on the muscles, joints, and ligaments is balanced and even. When the foundation of your spine shifts the top bone of your neck, it can cause the weight of the skull to shift as well. For every inch of head shift, it increases the weight on the structures beneath by ten pounds. This leads to increased loading of the muscles, joints, and ligaments in your body and creates uneven weight distribution.
Over the course of years, the uneven weight load can decrease disc height, decrease space for the nerves to exit the spine, and can cause the body to deposit bone in order to support and stabilize the increased weight. This cascade of events over time typically leads to the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. While DDD itself may not be the source of pain, the nerve irritation, muscle spasm, and lack of mobility from the degenerative process may be the reason one feels chronic pain. If the problem is severe enough, the condition may warrant a surgical procedure.
There are many ways that different health professionals aim to help with the pain that may be associated with degenerative disc disease. This may include physical therapy, exercise, ergonomic changes, and invasive options like surgery and injections.