Your spine is made up of multiple bones or vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebrae are soft, gel-like discs that help to cushion and absorb the impact of daily activities such as walking, lifting objects, and twisting/turning, thereby protecting the vertebrae from any pressure or strain.
Lumbar degenerative disc disease, commonly known as degenerative disc disease (DDD), is a condition where the intervertebral discs in your lower back deteriorate over time, resulting in the loss of fluid and flexibility. As a result, the discs are unable to cushion your spine properly, leading to pain and discomfort.
What causes lumbar degenerative disc disease?
Lumbar degenerative disc disease occurs due to:
Loss of hydration: a healthy lumbar disc consists of 90% fluid. However, as we age, the discs lose their fluidity and hydration, causing them to become dry, cracked, and thin. This reduces its ability to act as a shock absorber between the vertebrae, giving rise to pain and discomfort.
Wear and tear: as we age, the discs become more susceptible to minor injuries such as small tears or cracks. This can lead to herniated or slipped discs, which can in turn lead to compression of nearby nerves.
What are the symptoms of lumbar degenerative disc disease?
Symptoms of lumbar degenerative disc disease include:
Chronic lower back pain
Pain that worsens when sitting or standing for long periods of time
Pain that improves when changing positions frequently
Pain that spreads to your hips, buttocks, and legs
Numbness or tingling in your legs or feet
Weakness in your legs
Loss of reflexes in your legs
Decreased range of motion in your lower back
Stiffness in your lower back
If you notice any of the symptoms, make an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Dr Puah KL is our Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Artisan Sports & Orthopaedic Surgery. He used to serve the sports service of Singapore General Hospital - the highest volume trauma centre for orthopaedics in Singapore.
Lumbar degenerative disc disease can be a painful condition to live with. As the discs in the lower part of your back gradually lose their ability to cushion the vertebrae, the bones begin rubbing against each other, resulting in pain and discomfort.
The pain can also spread to other parts of your body, such as your hips, buttocks, and legs. The severity of the pain varies between individuals and ranges from mild discomfort to debilitating pain that can interfere with daily activities. In some cases, the pain can be constant, while in others, it may come and go.
Who is at risk of lumbar degenerative disc disease in Singapore?
Lumbar degenerative disc disease is a common condition that affects many individuals in Singapore – approximately 80% of the adult population in Singapore complain of lower back pain.
However, there are certain factors that increase your risk of developing lumbar degenerative disc disease, these are:
Age: your risk of developing this condition increases if you are over 40 years old, as the discs in your spine naturally degenerate over time.
Smoking:smoking damages healthy lumbar discs and accelerates the degeneration in discs that are already damaged.
Weight: individuals who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of developing lumbar degenerative disc disease due to the extra weight and pressure placed on the discs, causing them to degrade quicker than normal.
Genetics: a family history of lumbar degenerative disc disease increases your risk of developing the condition.
Occupations/hobbies: jobs or participating in sports and activities that are high impact or involve twisting or bending the back may increase your risk of developing lumbar degenerative disc disease.
Poor posture: having poor posture or weak back muscles may also increase your risk of developing degenerative disc disease.
How is lumbar degenerative disc disease diagnosed?
Lumbar degenerative disc disease is diagnosed in the following ways:
Physical examination: your orthopaedist will review your medical history and assess your range of motion, check for any neurological symptoms, and look for any signs of pain or discomfort.
Nerve conduction test: conducted to investigate the receptivity of nerve signals and to identify if any alteration of sensation has occurred.
What are the treatment options for lumbar degenerative disc disease in Singapore?
If you are diagnosed with lumbar degenerative disc disease, there are several treatment options available to aid your recovery. The type of treatment recommended to you will depend on the severity of your symptoms, your age, and your overall health.
Surgery: in severe cases that have not responded well to other treatments, surgery may be recommended to remove the damaged disc or to fuse two or more vertebrae together to provide stability to the spine.
Frequently asked questions
Is lumbar degenerative disc disease a serious condition?
Can you fully recover from lumbar degenerative disc disease on your own?
Is massage good for lumbar degenerative disc disease?
Feeling aches and pains?
Book a consultation with us for a more comprehensive diagnosis and a personalised treatment plan best suited to your needs.