My radiology exam says I have “evidence of degenerative changes” in my discs. What does that mean?

My radiology exam says I have “evidence of degenerative changes” in my discs. What does that mean?

Those nice cushions, called discs, that sit between each of the bones in our spine age just like the rest of our bodies. There is little we can do about this process.  Like wrinkles, it happens.  As we age, our discs become less soft and spongy and more ridged creating fewer resiliencies with weight bearing activities.  We use our backs every day and, of course, add to the normal and average wear and tear of both the discs and the vertebral bones.  Injuries, spines that are not aligned properly, and other disease processes can expedite this process.  People that are genetically prone to arthritis or brittle bones will also experience the symptoms of degenerative disc disease earlier or more severe than others. As discs weaken over time more compression is evident and a person will experience more persistent symptoms.  As early as our 20’s we will notice and quickly learn that our spines are more prone to aches and pains and will try our best to avoid things that may generate pain.  Initially, with good choices and rest with injury, back pain it is short lived.  But as our age advances we become more vulnerable to back pain and the incident of symptoms and the recovery time increases.  If the pain is altering the ability to perform daily activities for more than just a few days, there are options to consider.  Your doctor may initially offer rest and medication and then, if that is adequate, promote exercises or therapy to strengthen the muscles that support the back as a preventative measure. If the pain is persistent, he may offer steroid injections. If all else fails and an MRI shows significant disease, a surgical solution may become a consideration.  Minimally invasive procedures that offer relief related to mild to moderate disc degeneration include endoscopic interventions such as a laminectomy or discectomy. Advanced disease that requires a more encompassing approach, will most likely need a fusion or an artificial disc replacement.  If you think you are experiencing recurring symptoms of degenerative disc disease, see your doctor for an examination to further evaluate your condition.