Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a condition where the discs in the spine lose flexibility and become thinner and dehydrated causing back pain, stiffness and soreness. Chiropractic care realigns the discs to restore blood supply and proper function.

What is degenerative disc disease?

Dr. Chris Serafini: Degenerative disc disease really involves the intervertebral discs. Those are really the pillow-like cushions between your vertebrae and your spine. They help your back carry weight, allow complex motions of the spine while maintaining stability, and as you age sometimes, the discs can lose flexibility, the elasticity, the shock-absorbing characteristics. They also become thinner as they dehydrate. When all that happens, the discs change from a supple state that allows fluid movement to a stiff and rigid state that restricts your movement and causes pain.

Think of it really like a biomechanical misalignment. It is kind of like the alignment on your car. If the alignment is off on your car, the evidence of that misalignment is the abnormal wear and tear on the tires. You don’t have a tire problem, but you might think you do if you don’t look close enough. It is really an alignment problem. It is the same thing with degenerative disc disease. It is not really a disease. It is more of a condition.

What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease, and when should people seek help if they experience these symptoms?

Dr. Chris Serafini: Oftentimes, really pain, stiffness, and soreness, maybe sciatica or radiating symptoms, pain upon arising in the morning, lots of stiffness in the morning. When those discs are dehydrated, you are going to be very stiff in the morning. Pain with sitting for long periods of time or sitting still for long periods of time. If you’re having any of those symptoms for longer I’d say than about four weeks, a month or so, you should definitely go and get checked.

Besides the aging process, what are some other common causes for degenerative disc disease?

Dr. Chris Serafini: The real nuts and bolts of degenerative disc disease is really a biomechanical misalignment. If you have a misalignment there, it is going to create an abnormal wear and tear on that disc. It is going to grind and wear away at it. Over time, obviously that is going to create more and more degeneration. But it’s not merely how old you are. A lot of times people think that. It is really going to be related to some sort of trauma, some sort of issue that causes that misalignment.

Once again, I use the car analogy, because I think it’s most appropriate. But when you have a misalignment on your front of your car, your tires wear out. You don’t necessarily have a tire problem. You have a biomechanical problem. You have an alignment problem. It is the same thing with degenerative disc disease. It is over a period of time, that abnormal grinding and wearing away is going to degenerate the disc.

How is degenerative disc disease officially diagnosed?

Dr. Chris Serafini: I’d say most often it’s diagnosed through an x-ray, but you can certainly do it with MRIs, as well, but x-rays are the best because it’s a weight bearing joint, so you want to take an x-ray weight bearing. And you are going to be looking for obviously the disc to be thinning. Is it degenerating comparatively to the other discs? Also, you’re going to be looking at bone spurring. Bone spurring starts to occur from the abnormal wear and tear. As that disc starts to degenerate thinner and thinner, the bone spurs are going to start to form.

Once again, those are just the results of abnormal wear and tear on the spine. But once you start to get those arthritic changes to the bone, you’re certainly going to be in that degenerative disc disease area.

In what ways can a chiropractor help treat someone with disc disease?

Dr. Chris Serafini: As I stated, it is really because of a biochemical misalignment of that joint, so chiropractors are going to realign that joint. They’re going to restore normal biomechanics. Proper motion of that joint is going to create a process called imbibition. Most people don’t realize that the disc has no blood supply.

We know blood supply is extremely important because that is how our body gets oxygen and minerals and gets rid of wastes. So, if the disc does not have a blood supply, how does it do that? It does that through a process known as imbibition.  Imbibition is really a pump mechanism. Think of it if you squeeze a sponge. If you squeeze a sponge, the water’s going to come out of it. If you let your hands off of the sponge, the water will suck back in. Well, that normal biomechanics allows that joint to move which will allow it to compress, expand and contract, which will allow that hydration process to occur.

Also, we use decompression tables. Decompression tables are going to create a negative pressure within that disc to hydrate that disc and bring fluid back into it.

If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Chris Serafini, visit or call 480-443-7678 to schedule an appointment.

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