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Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

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Degenerative disc disease (DDD) can affect any part of the spine, but it most commonly affects the low back (lumbar spine) or neck (cervical spine). Where you have pain will depend on what region of your spine has the disc degeneration.

You may experience pain at the site of the damaged disc—in your lower back, for instance

However, the pain may also radiate (or travel) to another part of your body.  The nerves that branch off your spine travel to various parts of your body, so if the degenerated disc is pressing on a nerve in your low back—a nerve that is heading down to your legs—you may experience pain in your leg, too.  The pain message will "travel," and this is called a radiculopathy in the medical world.

Generally, people with degenerative disc disease have chronic back or neck pain. Sometimes, though, pain will flare up—that's called an acute episode. The main symptom, though, is pain, so you should pay attention to it and what makes it better or worse.

With degenerative disc disease, you may notice pain patterns such as:

  • more pain when sitting for a long time, bending, lifting, or twisting
  • less pain when walking or running
  • less pain if you change positions frequently
  • less pain when you lie down

It's important to treat your back and neck pain properly. Seek medical attention if your pain persists—and seek immediate attention if you have any of the emergency signs listed below.

Warning Signs You Need Immediate Help for Degenerative Disc Disease

  • Pain is getting worse
  • Disabling pain
  • Leg weakness, pain, numbness, or tingling
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

If you experience any of these emergency signs, please call your doctor and/or go to the emergency room immediately.

Updated on: 01/16/13
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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