Degenerative disc disease is not a single condition, but rather an umbrella term for a variety of lower back pain symptoms. Patients with degenerative disc disease present with pain in the lower back, which may correlate with radiating numbness or weakness in the lower extremities.
For some patients, these symptoms stem from osteoarthritis and the resultant breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the vertebrae. For others, stenosis causes the spinal canal to narrow and put pressure on the spinal cord. Pressure may also result from the herniating or splitting of an intervertebral disc, which normally protects the vertebrae.
Herniated discs occur when the wear and tear of aging causes cracks in the outer layer of the disc itself, in turn causing the gel-like material inside the disc to leak. The aging process also leads these discs to lose fluid and naturally become narrower, which can make the vertebrae more vulnerable to damage.
Not all patients will experience symptoms as a result of this degeneration, and those who do may not find that the condition worsens after its initial presentation. Many patients find that pain even eases with time, though some will need medication or physical therapy to mediate discomfort. Severely damaged discs may require surgical removal or replacement.