The two major symptoms are stiffness (lack of mobility) and pain. Interestingly, only the outer 1/3 of the disc is pain sensitive. Thus, a lot of people only have stiffness without pain even through the degenerative cascade has begun.
Pain associated with degenerative disc disease (DDD) can be inflammatory and/or mechanical. Inflammatory pain is caused by the release of chemicals in the nucleus that irritate nerve endings in the outer part of the disc known as the annulus fibrosis.
Mechanical pain is due to the physical compression of a nerve root as a result of herniation or disc space compression.If a tear occurs in the outer part of the disc, the soft inner nucleus can seep out and cause a bulge of the disc. This bulge may then compress one or more of the nerve roots in the spinal column, causing localized pain at the site of the nerve root or in the area that the nerve supplies. Thus, if the nerve travels down to the big toe, compression of this nerve can cause pain down to the big toe. This is known as a radiculopathy.
Collapse of the disc and compression of the spine may also create a condition known as spinal stenosis which is narrowing of the space available for the spinal cord and nerves.
Both inflammatory and mechanical pain also can cause muscle spasms which have their own signs and symptoms on top of the discal pain.
Because pain is often the last symptom to come on, it is important to have your spine checked by your chiropractor regularly, to maintain ideal spinal movement and function and prevent this disease. Once the degenerative changes have begun, it requires a lot more effort to restore appropriate spinal function. If the degenerative changes are allowed to continue for a prolonged period, the damage that is done can not be undone.