A question I am often asked is: "Is disc degeneration hereditary? My parents have it, is that why I have degenerative disc disease (DDD)?"
DDD is not hereditary. There are some arthritic ailments that do have a genetic or hereditary association, but DDD is not one of them.
DDD is cause by damage to the disc joint, usually as a result of an injury.
The damage process occurs over many years and doesn't become evident until sometime following the injury. What we see as ddd, on an MRI or x-ray in mid to late life, is the result of destructive processes that have taken place from an injury that occurred years prior.
With an MRI the destruction can be seen much earlier than that which is evident on plain x-ray film.
X-ray film does not show soft tissue, of which a disc is. It only shows bone density and space between bone (joint space). So damage to a disc before it begins to collapse or show boney changes, such as spurring, will not be picked up in the early process.
The time period between the damaging incident until it starts to show evidence on x-ray can be 5 or more years.
Often when symptoms get to the stage where they are bad enough to cause concern and seek treatment may be 20 or more years later or well into adulthood.
Since most adults have some degree of disc degeneration, as a result of an injury years prior or from cumulative micro-trauma, then most likely your parents and grandparents had DDD as well. Therefore, you may mistakenly assume that since your parents or grandparents suffered with DDD, and now you are told you have it as well, then it must be hereditary.
We tend to adopt similar habits and possibly even activities (sports, occupation, diet) that our parents had. So it is possible that we will suffer from some of the same ailments as a result. In that sense DDD may be “inherited” but... it is not genetic.
DDD will affect almost everyone to some degree. The older you get and the longer you live, plus the more you engaged in sports and suffered work, auto and childhood injuries throughout your life, the more likely you will have degenerative disc disease.
Do not be overly concerned or frightened by the term “disease”. Recognize that the presence of DDD doesn’t necessarily equate to symptoms of DDD. I have examined and discovered many cases of disc degeneration without the presence of significant symptoms. So it is possible to live a normal relatively pain-free or minimally painful life with disc degeneration.
Make your life and active experience. Exercise and engage if physical activity, maintain your weight and eat healthy. Developing a healthy lifestyle will go a long way to affording you a healthy active life... even if you do have ddd.