“Degenerative disc disease” is a misnomer as a degenerated spinal disc is not a disease, but rather part of the normal aging process of the spine. When a disc degenerates, it loses the ability to function efficiently as a part of the spinal joint. This, in turn, may lead to pain in the neck or back, sometimes with radiating pain and weakness in the extremities.
DDD is the most common cause of Lower back pain and neck pain from ages 10 -50. DDD is a primarily genetic condition caused by defective collagen cross linking which results in faster wear and tear on the spinal discs. The discs act like shock absorbers to support the spine yet allow motion. Many patients with DDD have a close relative(s) with the condition. The other 30 % of DDD is felt to be due to environmental factors such as normal aging, injuries, poor body mechanics such as improper bending and twisting, obesity ( only a minor risk factor ) and nicotine use /smoking. Nicotine and smoking are the number one reversible cause of DDD progression. Nicotine and cigarettes damage the capillary blood vessels which supply the vertebral endplates.
The Discs in the spine get their nutrition and oxygen from diffusion through the endplates because the discs do not have their own direct blood supply. Over time, if the blood supply to the vertebral endplates is damaged, then the discs are starved of oxygen and nutrients and cannot repair and maintain the strength of the disc. Stopping smoking and nicotine use is the best way to protect the healing power of the discs and slow progression of DDD.