Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD): Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) Definition and Meaning

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is not actually a disease. It’s an umbrella term for normal, age-related changes to the intervertebral discs, which serve as cushions between the vertebrae (bones) in the spine. Sometimes these disc changes can contribute to persistent pain and changes in back function. 

But in many cases people experience such changes in the spine without any symptoms at all or only brief, episodic symptoms. In fact, a study in the American Journal of Neuroradiology found that 96% of people over age 80 with no back pain showed signs of disc degeneration on MRIs.

Symptoms and Signs of Degenerative Disc Disease

Symptoms of degenerative disc disease can range from no pain at all to mild discomfort to more persistent pain, often affecting the lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) regions of the spine. If you do experience pain as a result of degenerative disc disease, it may present as low back pain, which may intensify when sitting, or as neck stiffness and discomfort that radiates into the arms. The pain can come and go or be more steady, and can worsen with certain activities like lifting, bending, or twisting. Other symptoms can include numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.

Common Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments

Treatments for disc changes in your back typically focus on alleviating symptoms and improving quality of life. Physical therapy and over-the-counter pain medications can both help. Movement is healthy for the spine, so staying active is crucial to managing degenerative disc disease. 

Degenerative Disc Disease: A Hinge Health Perspective

Let’s face it: The term “degenerative disc disease” sounds pretty alarming, so it’s natural to be unnerved if you’ve been told you have this condition. It’s actually quite common for those who have been diagnosed with DDD to experience anxiety or depression, particularly if the pain is chronic and impacts your ability to do the things you love. But remember: The spine is an incredibly strong structure that is responsible for supporting the entire body as well as so many movements that allow us to turn our head, stand up straight, bend, and twist. The spine is very resilient, even to age-related changes that naturally occur to the discs between vertebrae. 

If you’re reluctant to move because you think you’ll cause more pain or injury, know this: Movement is good for the spine. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine. You want your spine, along with the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support it, to remain flexible and mobile to prevent tightness that can lead to pain. In order to do that, you need to engage in exercises that support and strengthen your spine.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition.  Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Brinjikji, W., Luetmer, P. H., Comstock, B., Bresnahan, B. W., Chen, L. E., Deyo, R. A., Halabi, S., Turner, J. A., Avins, A. L., James, K., Wald, J. T., Kallmes, D. F., & Jarvik, J. G. (2014). Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 36(4), 811–816. doi:10.3174/ajnr.a4173

  2. Degenerative Disc Disease. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from 

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