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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 1




    Dr Greg Sher


    I am the Clinic Director of the Sydney Spine and Sports Clinic.At our clinic, we see an equal mix of city office workers and elite … View Profile

    Most of the time there are no symptoms intially.
    As the process is one of degeneration, it is a very slowly and insidious process, so most people don't even feel it happening. 

    Once the progression of the degerative disc is more advanced, symptoms can be varied, from stiffness (most common initial symptom), to localised pain, and if the process is severe enough, the disc or part of the bone can press on the Nerve Root, which can lead to pain, numbness and/or tingling down the arm or leg. 

    With the stiffness, it is usually worse first thing in the morning, and disappears within an hour or two of being up and about. 

  • 1




    Dr Ryan Hislop


    Ryan Hislop is the Clinical Director at the Mudgee Chiropractic Health and Wellness Centre. As an experienced and evidence-based diagnostician, Ryan works largely by medical … View Profile

    The two major symptoms are stiffness (lack of mobility) and pain. Interestingly, only the outer 1/3 of the disc is pain sensitive. Thus, alot of people only have stiffness without pain even through the degenerative cascade has begun.

    Pain associated with DDD can be inflammatory and/or mechanical. Inflammatory pain is caused by the release of chemicals in the nucleus that irritate nerve endings in the outer part of the disc known as the annulus fibrosis.

    Mechanical pain is due to the physical compression of a nerve root as a result of herniation or disc space compression.If a tear occurs in the outer part of the disc, the soft inner nucleus can seep out and cause a bulge of the disc. This bulge may then compress one or more of the nerve roots in the spinal column, causing localized pain at the site of the nerve root or in the area that the nerve supplies. Thus, if the nerve travels down to the big toe, compression of this nerve can cause pain down to the big toe. This is known as a radiculopathy.

    Collapse of the disc and compression of the spine may also create a condition known as spinal stenosis which is narrowing of the space available for the spinal cord and nerves.

    Both inflammatory and mechanical pain also can cause muscle spasms which have their own signs and symptoms on top of the discal pain.

  • 1


    Tom Cartwright


    I'm Tom Cartwright, I hold a Bachelor's degree in Chiropractic Science, and a Master's degree in Chiropractic, from Macquarie University. I complemented my studies with … View Profile

    The above answers by my fellow chiros are top notch.  From a more practical standpoint, if you're suffering degenerative disc disease, these are some of the things you may have noticed:

    1.  Difficulty bending forwards

    2. Really hard to tie your shoe laces

    3. Worse in the morning, it takes at least 10mins to get going.

    4. Twisting through your lumbar spine hurts

    5. Arm or leg pain worse than back pain (or no back pain at all)

    6. Hurts to roll over in bed at night

    7. Hard to get in and out of low seats or car seats.


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