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The Relationship between Degenerative Disc Disease and Trauma

As we age, the discs between our vertebra which cushion the spine tend to deteriorate through normal wear and tear. When they wear down, the vertebra can come in contact, and where they touch, bony spurs called osteophytes can develop. This in turn can result in a narrowing or stenosis of the spinal canal, the space through which the spinal nerves run, leading to compression. It can also result in a narrowing of the foraminal canals where nerves leave the spine. Even a minor narrowing of the canals can result in nerve compression. People with degenerative disc disease may experience various symptoms, such as pain, tingling, numbness, and radiculopathy, also known as “pinched nerve.” In radiculopathy, one or more nerves do not work properly, resulting in pain, weakness, numbness, or difficulty controlling muscles served by those nerves.

Degenerative disease associated with aging is typically a gradual process which develops over the course of several years, and remains asymptomatic until the deterioration finally results in nerve irritation or compression. Other factors may accelerate the onset of symptoms. In addition to age, other risk factors for degenerative disease include heredity, obesity, bad posture, frequent bending or lifting, smoking, poor nutrition, or trauma to the spine. Degenerative disc disease often remains asymptomatic until an injury exacerbates the pre-existing condition.

Trauma may occur through sports related injuries, falls, motor vehicle accidents or other events. In situations where another party caused the trauma, recovering compensation for back related injuries can be a challenge for the victim because the defense will argue that the problem is the result of the natural aging process, rather than the accident. Defendants will point to old x-rays which show degenerative disc disease, even though degenerative disc disease is common in older populations, and many people with radiographic evidence of such disease are pain free until they are involved in an accident. Experienced counsel, however,  can draw on the medical literature and effective examination of expert witnesses to show that the plaintiff’s condition was accelerated or exacerbated by trauma, and that the injury is what required clinical intervention. Defendants who wrongfully cause an injury can be held responsible for the exacerbation or aggravation of a pre-existing condition such as degenerative disc disease.  

James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. has been representing injured people for more than 40 years. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by the wrongful conduct of someone else, please call us toll-free for a free initial consultation at 877-341-2595. You may also contact us through our online form.  

Toll Free: +1 (877) 341-2595



CJ Centeno, J Fleishman, “Degenerative disc disease and pre-existing pain,” letter, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, Vol. 62, issue 4,

Lumbar Osteophytes (Bone Spurs),

NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Low Back Pain Fact Sheet, “…/Low-Back-Pain-Fact