Lumbar Disc Degeneration

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) of the lumbar spine is a relatively common condition in aging adults. Our intervertebral discs serve as shock absorbers for the spine, and as we age they gradually dry out, losing strength and resiliency. These changes are gradual in most people. In fact, many of our patients don’t know they have degenerative disc disease. They only become aware of the condition during a routine spinal exam.


(MRI of the lumbar spine showing decreased signal [darkening] and herniation “A” of the L5 disc)

Symptoms of Lumbar DDD

Disc degeneration in itself is not usually a problem; it is a normal aging process. However, DDD can cause the discs to lose height, resulting in nerve pathways narrowing and causing nerve impingement, inflammation, and pain. In severe cases, this neurogenic pain may be constant. DDD may also cause mechanical pain, which results from the degeneration of the disc (the “shock absorber”) leading to bones in the spine pressing against each other.

Diagnosing Lumbar DDD

Medical history: We will talk to you about your symptoms, their severity, and the treatments you have already tried.

Physical examination: You will be carefully examined by one of our spine specialists for limitation of movement, problems with balance, pain, loss of reflexes in the extremities, muscle weakness, loss of sensation or other signs of neurological damage.

Diagnostic tests: Generally, we start with x-rays, which allow us to rule out other problems such as tumors and infections. An MRI will be taken to enable the physicians to assess the degree of disc degeneration, especially any loss of disc height.

Chiropractic Treatment of Lumbar DDD: Treatment of this condition is initially symptomatic relief at first, followed by specific “intersegmental traction treatment” to the spine. Rest may also be suggested, but typically keeping the patients moving while under care has produced the best results. Patients are encouraged to get up and gradually resume their activities.

During the treatment here, we will combine physical therapy to all patients that can benefit from it. For lumbar DDD, prescribed stretching exercises can improve flexibility, and extension exercises help maintain the spine’s natural curve. Hot/cold therapy and light massage can also be beneficial for low back pain.

After acute symptoms subside (usually within two to three weeks), patients are encouraged to begin a daily exercise regimen. This may include low impact aerobics three times per week as well as daily back exercises.

Recovery: While lumber DDD is a natural part of aging, it does not mean you have to live with low back pain. We can help you return to a healthy, pain-free and active life. A chiropractic approach is safest and deals directly with the spine, it is not a masking agent designed to make the symptoms disappear. Pain relief medications typically have the reverse effect by allowing an individual to keep doing the things that injured them initially – but this time without the pain.