What is Intervertebral Disc Degeneration, and What Causes It?

Michael A. Adams, PhD; Peter J. Roughley, PhD


Spine. 2006;31(18):2151-2161. 

In This Article

Disc Degeneration: Epidemiology

Regardless of which definition is used, disc degeneration increases with age and is most common in the lower lumbar spine.[65] The highest risk factor is genetic inheritance, which accounts for approximately 50-70% of the variability in disc degeneration between identical twins.[1m90] It is noteworthy that this 50-70% does not include the strong intrasubject dependence of disc degeneration on spinal level, which probably reflects environmental influences.[1] Individual genes associated with disc degeneration include those for collagen type IX,[91] aggrecan,[92] vitamin D receptor,[93] MMP3,[94] and cartilage intermediate layer protein.[95] The products of these genes probably affect the strength of skeletal tissues, and their systemic effects may explain why disc degeneration is more prevalent in those with osteoarthritis.[74] Environmental risk factors for disc degeneration include high and repetitive mechanical loading1,[96] and smoking cigarettes.[97] Disc prolapse is closely associated with heavy lifting,[98] but not with other features of spinal degeneration or age,[65] suggesting that prolapse is not an integral part of the aging process.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: