Degenerative Disc Disease is somewhat of a misnomer when it comes to spinal conditions. The discs that support the space between our vertebra and allow us the mobility that we have in our spine have a natural tendency to degenerate over time. That said, degenerative disc disease is less of a disease and more of a process of aging.
Many patients who are diagnosed with degenerative disc disease from an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scan will have no symptoms of neck or back pain. Whether or not a patient would experience any kind of pain associated with degenerative disc disease depends largely on the severity of the degenerated/compromised disc(s).
Over time, degenerative discs can start to lose their height. When we stand upright, gravity is pulling down on our bodies at all times. This is why we all tend to get just a little bit shorter as we get older! When a disc loses its height, the spinal and foraminal canals can become narrowed (which is referred to as spinal or foraminal stenosis). This narrowing can cause irritation and inflammation of the spinal cord itself as well as the exiting nerve root branches that cascade from the neck to the low back. This irritation and inflammation cause patients to debilitating pain.
Additionally, when a disc becomes compromised due to degeneration over time, the disc can be more susceptible to tears that can lead to bulges or herniations within the disc. These bulging and/or herniated portions of the disc can protrude into the spinal/foraminal canals and cause a wide variety of painful symptoms.