Degenerative disk disease, or DDD, occurs when the disks between the spinal vertebrae begin to break down, which is a natural part of the aging process. The disks are the gel-like cushions between the vertebrae that act as shock absorbers, and as the body ages, these disks breakdown through normal wear-and-tear and become thinner and less flexible, thus causing pain, according to Spine Universe.
Degenerative disk disease can occur anywhere within the spine, but the two major regions affected in most people are the cervical neck region and the lower lumbar region of the back, states WebMD. Cartilage tissue that breaks down can cause disk damage, as can narrowing of the spinal canal. These are generally age-related changes mostly seen in older adults, although people in their 20s can have degenerative changes as well. Hard falls, physical trauma and smoking all contribute to degenerative changes.
Narrowing of the disk space between vertebrae, called spondylosis, is visible on imaging studies, states MedicineNet.com. Osteoarthritis of the vertebrae causes compression of the spinal nerves, which results in pain that can be quite severe, according to Wikipedia.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication is the first option for treatment. If this not effective, a course of physical therapy may be ordered, states WebMD. If pain still remains after trying medication and physical therapy, surgery is the final option in treating degenerative disk disease.