Degenerative disc disease does not exist! That is correct. This is not a typographical error. Degeneration begins at conception and stops at death for all of us. Therefore, the degenerative process is part of the normal physiologic aging process.
Aging is not a disease process.Aging is a normal physiologic process.
Therefore, degenerative disc disease is a misnomer. A more appropriate anatomic and physiologic description of a disc that is thin on MRI with some change in signal intensity on T2-weighted images would be age-related degenerative change. This can also be referred to as “gray hair of the spine.” It is a picture in time documenting the aging process. Degenerative discs have not been proven to be a source of pain. In our experience, they are much more so a source of litigation.
All people develop degenerative changes. In fact, even 10% of 10 year olds have degenerative changes on spine MRIs. By age 40, all people have degenerative changes on a spine MRI but this does not mean that all people age 40 and over have neck and low back pain.
Parties who frequently litigate imaging findings need to be medically wary that patients are treated by doctors – not MRI findings. A detailed clinical history and physical examination is by far more important than the imaging findings. Imaging findings must be corroborative of the clinical history and clinical examination findings in order to merit clinical significance.