Disc conditions occur when damaged or weakened discs break down or move out of alignment. Eight out of 10 people experience back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain is often caused by disc conditions caused by natural aging processes, disease or injury.
Weakened or damaged discs — known as degenerative discs — can cause pain and lead to conditions such as spinal stenosis (narrowed spinal column), spinal osteoarthritis or spondylolisthesis (slipped disk).
Disc conditions generally fall into three categories:
- Degenerative disc disease. Discs degenerate or break down over time due to aging, daily wear and tear, or injury. As you age, your discs lose fluid and dry out, which can lead to the deterioration and weakening of the tough outer edges of the disc.
- Herniated (slipped) discs. In weakened discs, the gel-like center (nucleus) can herniate or move out of place. With time and stress on the spine, this gel can become compressed and be pushed outward or broken, also called a ruptured disc. When a disc ruptures and the nucleus breaks through the outer ring, the gel can press against spinal nerves or the spinal cord, causing significant pain.
- Discitis. Autoimmune disease or a viral or bacterial infection can sometimes cause painful swelling and irritation of the space between spinal bones, called the intervertebral disc space. Discitis is fairly uncommon and usually occurs in children under 10.