March 11th, 2015

Over 75% of Americans experience some form of low back pain in their lifetime, with many become overwhelmed with various medical terms and treatment options. Here is some information to assist with understanding how medical professionals and patients handle back pain.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)?

DDD is a type of osteoarthritis and a typical part of the natural aging process which can be a primary source of back pain in a lot of our patients. When we are younger our discs are more flexible and able to absorb nutrients more effectively. Unfortunately as we age, with repetitive stresses, and natural wear-and-tear, the discs lose volume, becoming stiffer and less absorbent. The loss of this joint space can result in bone spurring and friction between vertebrae, resulting in inflammation which can lead to pain in some cases.

Who is at risk for DDD?

While the statistics show everyone may be at risk just due to the natural aging process, research shows certain risk factors that may lead to DDD:

  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Jobs that demand heavy physical lifting

What are the symptoms associated with DDD?

Symptoms vary from individual to individual. Often patients complain of stiffness or, in presence of nerve irritation, burning, numbness and tingling. Common symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the back, hips, buttocks, and legs
  • Symptoms worse in the morning or following periods of prolonged positions
  • Symptoms  worse with bending and twisting activities

It is important to remember that while imaging may show the presence of DDD, not all individuals with DDD are symptomatic and require treatment.  Many individuals may be asymptomatic, don’t let imaging scare you into having symptoms and seeking unwarranted treatment.  Please consult your local physical therapist or physician if you have any questions. Stay tuned for Physical Therapy & Back Pain: Part II!

Stay healthy,

Cole Racich, PT, DPT

Physical Therapist’s Guide to Degenerative Disc Disease, APTA