Degenerative Disc Disease - Don't be fooled (part 1)

Written by Melanie


The diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease of the lower back does NOT mean you are doomed for chronic pain.  This terminology is misleading to people with or without back pain and does not mean that you should be dependent on an ongoing basis with a health professional, or that that will be your fate.


Most people by the age of 50 will have this diagnosis on x ray imaging and it may have nothing to do with why they have pain.  Let’s look closer at this “disease”.


The word “disease” is often a loaded word for people.  Lets face it, it is usually associated with negative things!   The individual may then feel helpless, hopeless and vulnerable.

The definition according to is:



  1. a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.



  1. (of a disease or symptom) characterized by progressive, often irreversible deterioration, and loss of function in the organs or tissues.

“degenerative diseases”  of or tending to decline and deterioration.  “the young generation had fallen into a degenerative backslide”


 In the context of the lower back and degenerative disease, the word “aging” would be the most appropriate.


The changes that occur to our discs and surrounding bone structure are mostly unavoidable due to our natural aging process.  This is why many individuals at age 50 will be given the degenerative disc disease diagnosis.  And yet have no back pain.  To read more about the natural aging process of our discs read Degenerative Disc Disease – Don’t be fooled (part 2).

Yes some individuals will have back pain as a result of stress and strain degeneration in their lumbar discs more than other individuals, however, I do not consider that phenomenon to be correctly described as a disease.  These changes are as a result of lifestyle, postural and occupational choices.


As a Physiotherapy clinician I often see the effects on the psyche of receiving the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, often times these individuals have no or minimal to moderate lower back pain and they are rendered into a helpless state upon hearing the word disease.  This can be to the patients’ detriment depending on the health professional they chose to lead their care.


Most lower back pain and injury under quality care should resolve in 8 – 12 weeks.  Individuals should not require monthly readjustments to function pain free or with minimal pain throughout their lives.  They also will likely resolve without costly “decompression therapy”.  This may be a glorified term for lumbar traction in an expensive machine.


Sometimes the label of degenerative disc disease can be used as an excuse for an individual to believe that they have to live with their pain and depend on the health professionals to give them only temporary relief.  This is not true.


Lets explore further in Degenerative Disc Disease – Don’t be fooled (part 2) what the case is when this diagnostic label is used.


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