What is Intervertebral Disc Degeneration, and What Causes It?

Department of Anatomy, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.
Spine (Impact Factor: 2.3). 09/2006; 31(18):2151-61. DOI: 10.1097/01.brs.0000231761.73859.2c
Source: PubMed


STUDY DESIGN: Review and reinterpretation of existing literature. OBJECTIVE: To suggest how intervertebral disc degeneration might be distinguished from the physiologic processes of growth, aging, healing, and adaptive remodeling. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: The research literature concerning disc degeneration is particularly diverse, and there are no accepted definitions to guide biomedical research, or medicolegal practice. DEFINITIONS: The process of disc degeneration is an aberrant, cell-mediated response to progressive structural failure. A degenerate disc is one with structural failure combined with accelerated or advanced signs of aging. Early degenerative changes should refer to accelerated age-related changes in a structurally intact disc. Degenerative disc disease should be applied to a degenerate disc that is also painful. JUSTIFICATION: Structural defects such as endplate fracture, radial fissures, and herniation are easily detected, unambiguous markers of impaired disc function. They are not inevitable with age and are more closely related to pain than any other feature of aging discs. Structural failure is irreversible because adult discs have limited healing potential. It also progresses by physical and biologic mechanisms, and, therefore, is a suitable marker for a degenerative process. Biologic progression occurs because structural failure uncouples the local mechanical environment of disc cells from the overall loading of the disc, so that disc cell responses can be inappropriate or "aberrant." Animal models confirm that cell-mediated changes always follow structural failure caused by trauma. This definition of disc degeneration simplifies the issue of causality: excessive mechanical loading disrupts a disc's structure and precipitates a cascade of cell-mediated responses, leading to further disruption. Underlying causes of disc degeneration include genetic inheritance, age, inadequate metabolite transport, and loading history, all of which can weaken discs to such an extent that structural failure occurs during the activities of daily living. The other closely related definitions help to distinguish between degenerate and injured discs, and between discs that are and are not painful.

Download full-text


Available from: Peter Roughley,
814 Reads
  • Source
    • "Ergonomics (2015), related (Adams and Roughley, 2006; Griffith et al., 2007 "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Indirect measurement of disc hydration can be obtained through measures of spinal height using stadiometry. However, specialised stadiometers for this are often custom-built and expensive. Generic wall-mounted stadiometers alternatively are common in clinics and laboratories. This study examined the reliability of a custom set-up utilising a wall-mounted stadiometer for measurement of spinal height using custom built wall mounted postural rods. Twelve participants with non-specific chronic low back pain (CLBP; females n = 5, males n = 7) underwent measurement of spinal height on three separate consecutive days at the same time of day where 10 measurements were taken at 20 s intervals. Comparisons were made using repeated measures analysis of variance for 'trial' and 'gender'. There were no significant effects by trial or interaction effects of trial x gender. Intra-individual absolute standard error of measurement (SEM) was calculated for spinal height using the first of the 10 measures, the average of 10 measures, the total shrinkage, and the rate of shrinkage across the 10 measures examined as the slope of the curve when a linear regression was fitted. SEMs were 3.1 mm, 2.8 mm, 2.6 mm and 0.212, respectively. Absence of significant differences between trials and the reported SEMs suggests this custom set-up for measuring spinal height changes is suitable use as an outcome measure in either research or clinical practice in participants with CLBP.
    Applied ergonomics 10/2015; DOI:10.1016/j.apergo.2015.10.001 · 2.02 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "Moreover, back pain can easily relapse or lead to chronic pain. Frequent and prolonged back pain inhibits physical activities, leading to a decrease in flexibility, range of motion, muscle strength and endurance, myoatropy, and paraspinal muscle cross-sectional area (Adams and Roughley, 2006). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Pilates and resistance exercises are used for lumbar stabilization training. However, it is unclear which exercise is more effective for lumbar stabilization. In our study, we aimed to compare surface muscle activity and deep muscle thickness during relaxation and spinal stabilization exercise in experienced Pilates and resistance exercise instructors. This study is a retrospective case control study set in the Exercise Prescription Laboratory and Sports Medicine Center. The participants included Pilates instructors (mean years of experience, 3.20±1.76; n=10), resistance exercise instructors (mean years of experience, 2.53±0.63; n=10), and controls (n=10). The participants performed 4 different stabilization exercises: abdominal drawing-in maneuver, bridging, roll-up, and one-leg raise. During the stabilization exercises, surface muscle activity was measured with electromyography, whereas deep muscle thickness was measured by ultrasound imaging. During the 4 stabilization exercises, the thickness of the transverse abdominis (TrA) was significantly greater in the Pilates-trained group than the other 2 other groups. The internal oblique (IO) thickness was significantly greater in the Pilates- and resistance-trained group than the control group, during the 4 exercises. However, the surface muscle activities were similar between the groups. Both Pilates and resistance exercise instructors had greater activation of deep muscles, such as the TrA and IO, than the control subjects. Pilates and resistance exercise are both effective for increasing abdominal deep muscle thickness.
    06/2015; 11(3):161-8. DOI:10.12965/jer.150203
  • Source
    • "Intervertebral disc (IVD) abnormalities resulting from metabolic disorders, aging processes, trauma, or degenerative discs diseases are common in the human population and can cause considerable pain, particularly if they affect adjacent nerves. When the results of conservative treatments are insufficient, and the neurological problems that lead to pain need to be resolved, surgical intervention is required [1]. Currently, a standard surgical procedure for the reduction of pressure on the surrounding (nerve) tissue is partial-or total nucleotomy followed by implantation of a nucleus pulposus prosthesis (NPP) to restore the biomechanical function of the disc [2]. "
Show more