Degenerative disc disease and arthritis are the same. DDD refers to the intervertebral disc losing its height due to a decrease in hydration. This is a normal process that occurs over our lifespan. 

Joint space narrowing is a primary feature of radiographic osteoarthritis. 

Radiographic osteoarthritis is different from symptomatic arthritis. 

You can have radiographic arthritis without having symptomatic arthritis. In layman’s terms, you can have arthritis that shows up on your x-ray or MRI that doesn’t cause any pain. 

Often times what also happens with DDD is that you also develop arthritic changes to the vertebrae themselves, calcium deposits, etc. 

With knee osteoarthritis or hip osteoarthritis, the cartilage of the joint slowly diminishes. It’s thought that this is due to load bearing over time (wear and tear), and low-level inflammation that occurs over a lifetime. 

Not everyone who has osteoarthritis or DDD will have pain or other symptoms. In fact, many people have DDD, knee osteoarthritis, and many other types of arthritis and don’t even know it. 

If you’re looking for an exercise treatment program for degenerative disc disease, check out the article I just linked to in this sentence.

Are Degenerative disc disease and arthritis the same thing?

Yes. As discussed above and then described below, DDD and osteoarthritis are the same thing as they have identical characteristics. 

As a medical community, we should redefine DDD and likely call it spinal osteoarthritis as this would be a more accurate term. 

If there are no symptoms, it might be even more appropriate to call it spinal bone changes as if there isn’t any pain associated can we really call it arthritis? Probably not. 

It’s a confusing term, nonetheless. 

What is radiographic osteoarthritis?

Radiographic osteoarthritis, or x-ray confirmed structural changes to the joint, has these defined characteristics:

  • Subchondral sclerosis
  • Joint space narrowing (loss of disc height in spine)
  • Osteophyte formation (calcium deposits)
  • Cyst formation

What is symptomatic osteoarthritis?

  • Joint swelling
  • Pain and stiffness that is worse in the morning and improves in 30-60 minutes once warmed up
  • Stiffness after periods of inactivity
  • Joint instability (feeling unstable)

Is degenerative disc disease hereditary?

Yes, if you are a human, this will happen to you over the course of many years. 

If you’re curious as to the long-term effects of DDD, I wrote this article you might enjoy. **insert link**

I have done a search through google scholar, and PubMed, and have not found any articles that show a clear link between parents having DDD and children having the same or more DDD.

What we know for certain is that over time, DDD is something that happens within everyone. Just like we get wrinkles in our skin, so to, we will develop DDD.

 Is this serious? Let’s answer that below. 

Is degenerative disc disease serious?

Often times, no. While DDD sounds scary, it’s really not a disease. It’s spinal bone changes that take place as a normal aging process. 

Some people will develop stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and other conditions that may or may not cause a variety of symptoms, however this is not a guarantee. 

The only time DDD would be serious would be if you’ve developed such severe nerve compression that you start to experience weakness, numbness and tingling due to nerve compression. 

This does happen, but in most people this does not occur. 

Is degenerative disc disease painful?

You may or may not have symptoms. Many people have degenerative disc disease and have no pain as shown in the infographic in that link I just shared. 

This gets more common as we get older. 

If you do have symptoms this can be arthritic type pain as defined above or nerve-related pain depending on if there is any nerve compression occurring. 

Is degenerative disc disease considered a disability?

No, DDD is not a disability. You can develop symptoms that may create disability however this is not common.