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Is Degenerative Disc Disease Serious?

Home » » Is Degenerative Disc Disease Serious?

Every week I have people coming into my clinic with back or neck pain who have been told by their doctor that they have degenerative disc disease and this is why they have pain. Fortunately, the research just does not support this as a cause for our back or neck pain. In this article, I will tell you why……

Just like our skin gets wrinkles or our hair turns grey (or we lose it!) as we get older, the inside of our body undergoes changes as we age. These are normal age-related changes and just like we would not expect to have face pain from wrinkles or head pain from our hair turning grey, we should not expect our spine to hurt just because it is getting older! This is good news…..

If we really believe that our pain is from degenerative changes (or getting older) there is nothing we can really do about it. The changes are going to happen whether we want them to or not. This can make us feel like we will be stuck with pain because nothing can be done. Surgery is definitely not an option for degenerative disc disease and back or neck pain. Knowing that these normal changes are likely not the cause of pain, it should give you hope that you can get out of pain and back to living a normal life despite the changes that are happening inside your body. 

I recorded a video talking about degenerative disc disease and arthritis in our spines which you can view by clicking on the button below:

After watching the video, here are some key take aways:

1. When we look at MRIs of the spine in people without pain at different ages, we find that many of the things that are given as the cause of someone’s pain are seen in people without pain! Basically, the older we are, the more likely we are to show changes in our spine. This happens to all of us! In fact, if we live to be 70 years old, almost 90% of people without pain will show degenerative disc disease. This is common in many other “diagnosis” as shown in the graph to the right. Remember, these are normal, age-related changes.

2. What about when people have pain at a younger age and show some of these changes? There have been studies that have looked at this as well. After an initial onset of pain, researchers do an MRI on people to see what is found, Then, they follow these people for many years and do a repeat MRI and ask them about their current pain. In a study on necks, they did a follow up MRI 20 years later! A recent study on the low back followed patients for 10 years.  What they find in these studies is that there are further changes on MRI but……these changes have no correlation with pain! These people’s MRI showed progression of the things found when they were younger, but the fact that these changes progressed did not identify who would our who would not have pain in the future!

As I stated above, all of this is good news! There are many things that can contribute to back or neck pain but it appears that degenerative disc disease/spinal arthritis is not something that you need to be worried about. It is not serious and is just a normal part of aging. 

If you have been told you have pain because of these normal, age-related changes, don’t believe it. Reach out to me so we can check you out and identify and address other things that may be contributing to your pain so that you can get over this and back to being more active without being limited by back or neck pain. If you would like to talk to me about your problems, click below and enter your information, and I will contact you:

Thanks for reading,



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