Degenerative disc disease (DDD) refers to gradual deterioration of the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae. DDD is a misnomer as it is not actually a disease but a condition that affects the strength, resiliency and structural integrity of the intervertebral discs due to advancing age, trauma, injury, repetitive movement, improper posture, or poor body mechanics. DDD is commonly seen in individuals over 50 years of age. Most of them are usually not aware about their condition until they are examined for some other related health condition.
The intervertebral disc is composed of an inflexible ring called the annulus fibrosis which encloses a gelatinous inner structure called the nucleus pulposus. The discs are kept in position with the help of endplates between two vertebral bodies. The intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers.
As we age, the rate at which the old, worn out cells are replaced is gradually reduced, resulting in the degenerative changes in the discs which can also be accelerated by injury or trauma.
These structural changes can cause a sequence of other changes, resulting in nerve compression and pain due to reduction in the disc height, and presence of bone spurs or bony overgrowths (osteophytes). Other conditions such as spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis (spondylosis) can also affect the intervertebral joints and spinal stability.