Degenerative DiscDisease


Spinal discs, discs in between the bones that make up your spine (vertebrae), allow your back to bend and twist flexibly. They act like shock absorbers, insulating against impact. In the course of day-to-day life, these discs take on a great deal of strain. As a result, these discs can eventually start to break down and cause pain – leading to a condition called degenerative disc disease (DDD), or cervical disc disease.

Your spine is divided into regions:

  • Neck or upper back (cervical spine)
  • Middle-back (thoracic spine)
  • Lower back (lumbar spine)

Disc degeneration most commonly occurs in the upper and lower regions.

Unfortunately, since invertebral discs receive less blood flow than other soft tissue, the damage doesn’t heal well on its own. In some cases, these deteriorated discs may collapse and cause the joints in the vertebrae to rub against each other, which can cause spinal osteoarthritis, characterized by stiffness and pain of the joints.

Aurora offers a variety of disc degeneration treatments including surgical and non-surgical approaches.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase your risk for developing degenerative disc disease:

  • Age: It’s normal for your spinal discs to degenerate as you grow older, but it doesn’t always cause pain.
  • Active lifestyle: Over time, sports and other physical activities can cause wear and tear on your discs.
  • Back injuries: Injuries can speed the wear and tear on your discs.


Some common degenerative disc disease symptoms include:

  • Bouts of severe pain that disappear spontaneously after days or even months
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms and legs
  • Pain that improves when you’re moving or lying down
  • Pain that worsens when you’re sitting, which puts pressure on the discs in your lower back


You may need tests so your doctor can evaluate the condition of your spinal discs and the degree of spinal degeneration. You may get an MRI, an X-ray, or a discography in which dye is injected into your disc to make an X-ray image clearer.

Services & Treatment

If you have degenerative disc disease, your doctor will first try non-surgical treatments to relieve your chronic back pain, including:

  • Cold therapy (icing your back)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) 
  • Physical therapy and back-strengthening exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the spine
  • Stretching
If these methods don’t work to ease your pain, you may need surgery. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Spinal fusion: The damaged disc is removed (called a discectomy) and the two vertebrae above and below it are fused together for stability. 
  • Artificial disc replacement: The damaged disc is removed and replaced with a synthetic one.

Find Spine Care Near You

When you have degenerative disc disease, the Aurora Spine Program makes it easier for you to get back to the things that matter most. With a single entry point and your own care coordinator, you’ll be connected to an integrated team of specialists all working together on your personalized treatment plan. Learn more about our program locations in eastern Wisconsin:

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Our specialists will help identify the treatment option that’s right for you.

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