Cervical degenerative disc disease often fills the role of a common scapegoat for a variety of misdiagnosed neck pain conditions. Degenerative disc disease is a ludicrous name for the condition, since it is not a disease process at all. Instead, cervical DDD is a normal part of aging and it affects people almost universally as they get older.
Disc deterioration is rarely the exclusive cause of serious chronic neck pain or other symptoms. Detailed information about the full range of cervical spinal conditions can be found in our neck pain section for patients who have pain, but doubt that the implicated disc disease is the true source. These are very smart patients indeed.
This essay explores the incidence of degenerative disc disease in the neck, providing an objective and factual account rarely seen in medical literature.
The cervical intervertebral discs are thinner than in other regions of the vertebral column. This makes degeneration and loss of disc height more noticeable even at lesser amounts of deterioration. The cervical discs wear faster than discs in the rest of the spine, except the lower lumbar discs. This occurs due to the amount of movement generated in the cervical region from the constant bending and flexing of the neck.
Noticeable cervical disc degeneration is normal to experience by the age of 30 and may begin far earlier, especially in the middle to lower levels and at the cervicothoracic juncture. Virtually all adults over the age of 40 will demonstrate marked cervical DDD at one or more intervertebral levels, usually including C4/C5, C5/C6, C6/C7 and/or C7/T1.
It is completely normal for adults to demonstrate degeneration in the cervical discs and vertebrae. The vast majority of people will not develop any symptoms, even though their cervical discs show identical degenerative changes as symptomatic patients.
DDD is often blamed for cases of idiopathic back pain when no other spinal abnormalities are present. It is certainly always available to shoulder the blame when a doctor chooses to implicate it in a dorsopathy syndrome.
The diagnosis of disc disease can be devastating to a patient. The actual words, degenerative disc disease, paint a mental picture that is sure to scare any patient. This is especially true if the patient does not have any pre-existing knowledge of the condition. The way the diagnosis is presented to a patient can make a big difference in its effects.
Before becoming terrified by the nocebo reaction of this frightening sounding condition, learn the facts and realize that DDD is completely normal. We all have it. There is no reason to fear disc desiccation. It is unlikely to be the source of your pain.
DDD is almost never to blame as the exclusive cause of chronic or acute neck pain. If you have been diagnosed with DDD, do not assume that this is the actual cause of your suffering. The majority of chronic neck and back pain syndromes are not structurally-motivated by degenerative processes.
Don’t waste time and money suffering through a variety of degenerative disc disease treatments until you can be sure the diagnosis is correct and makes solid sense. The way to do this is to get more than one professional opinion on your case, ask lots of quality questions of your various doctors and continue to do large amounts of independent research on your diagnosis, symptoms and treatment options.
The more you learn, the more you will understand. DDD is not a villain. It is merely part of the human journey from youth to old age. Nothing more. Nothing less.