Types of Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)

Degenerative disc disease is a condition characterized by damage to the intervertebral discs that can result in pain and stiffness.

There are three different types of degenerative disc disease, which influence the symptoms a patient may experience. Pain will typically spread to the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, legs, and/or feet.

Degenerative disc disease is caused by a natural process of aging as the intervertebral discs lose flexibility, elasticity, and their shock absorbing abilities. Most often, disc degeneration begins around age 30 but may be asymptomatic for several years before a person begins to feel pain and treatment is required.

Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease

Cervical degenerative disc disease is the second most common type of degenerative disc disease and will manifest anywhere along the cervical spine. The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebral bones; C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7.

Patients with cervical disc degeneration may experience pain that flares up from time to time. Patients may also suffer from a stiff neck and altered nerve sensations in the neck and between the shoulder blades. Disc degeneration in the neck may lead to a disc herniation and other spinal conditions that can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease

Lumbar degenerative disc disease is the most common type of degenerative disc disease. Disc degeneration will appear in the lumbar spine; the L1, L2, L3, L4, and L5. Lumbar degenerative discs are common because the lower back region carries the bulk of your weight and endures a lot of stress and strain every single day.

Lower back pain is common with lumbar disc degeneration. The condition is also likely to cause altered nerve sensations, such as numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness, in the lower back. Radiating pain into the buttocks, legs, and feet may also appear as symptoms.

One of the most common causes of sciatica, pressure on the sciatic nerve that causes radiating pain, is lumbar degenerative disc disease.

Thoracic Degenerative Disc Disease

Thoracic degenerative disc disease is the degeneration of the thoracic spine, which consists of 12 thoracic vertebrae numbered T1 to T12. Disc degeneration in the thoracic spine, or mid-back at the level of the ribcage, is rare. However, when it does occur, back pain is often located around the site of the degenerated disc.

Degenerative disc disease can occur anywhere along the spine and in more than one location. The degeneration of one disc can negatively affect others causing them to also be more susceptible to weakening.

Disc degeneration cannot be reversed, but with conservative treatments, a patient may be able to find pain relief. When conservative treatments, such as physical therapy and medications, fail, surgical procedures may be recommended.