Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density. Degenerative disc disease is the wearing down of a disc in your spine. Degenerative disc disease may be more common in people with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is when your bone density is lower than typical. It’s very common, especially in women older than 50 years of age. It’s estimated that about
Degenerative disk disease (DDD) is the breakdown of the soft disk between each of your vertebrae. It’s also very common, and it’s estimated that about 400 million people receive a diagnosis of a degenerative disk each year worldwide.
You’ll notice we use the binary terms “man” and “women” in this article. While we realize this term may not match your gender experience, it’s the term used by the researchers whose data was cited. We try to be as specific as possible when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.
Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data for or may not have had participants who are transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.
Your body is constantly breaking down and building new bone tissue. Osteoporosis develops when your body breaks down bone faster than it builds it.
DDD is the breakdown of the disks between your vertebrae. These disks help absorb force on your spine and provide space for nerves to exit your spinal cord.
Your spinal disks help transmit force between your vertebrae. The part of your vertebrae that contacts your disks are called the endplates. These endplates supply your disks with essential nutrients.
Here’s a look at some of the differences between osteoporosis and DDD.
|Degenerative disk disease
|usually starts after age 50
|generally starts at a younger age
|affects your bones
|affects the disk between your vertebrae
|usually painless until bone fracture
|may cause pain or neurological symptoms if nerve roots are compressed
|women more often affected
Osteoporosis and DDD are both largely silent, meaning that they often don’t cause symptoms.
Osteoporosis usually doesn’t cause symptoms unless you fracture a bone.
- severe back pain
- loss of height
- stooped or hunched posture
Degenerative disc disease
Symptoms may include:
- worsening pain when sitting and improvement with movement
- worsening pain with bending, lifting, or twisting
- numbness, weakness, or tingling in your limbs
Treatment options for osteoporosis and DDD include the following.
Medications are the primary treatment for osteoporosis. The main prescription medications used as treatment for osteoporosis are bisphosphates. These medications slow your rate of bone breakdown.
- zoledronic acid
Other prescription medications for osteoporosis include:
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs): SERMs such as tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Soltamox) and raloxifene (Evista) regulate how your body uses the hormone estrogen.
- Other hormone replacement therapy: Hormone replacement therapy can help increase or maintain your estrogen levels to help strengthen your bones.
- Biological medications: Biological medications like denosumab and romosozumab may be prescribed to help strengthen your bones if you can’t take bisphosphates.
- Parathyroid hormone injections: These hormones help your body keep calcium levels more consistent. This helps your bones.
Nonprescription treatments for osteoporosis include things like:
Degenerative disc disease treatment
DDD doesn’t usually need treatment unless you have symptoms. Treatment may include:
- pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs)
- physical therapy
- steroid injections
- low impact exercise
- hot and cold therapy
- back bracing
- radiofrequency neurotomy
If these treatments aren’t effective, a doctor may recommend an artificial disk replacement.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- female sex
- increased age
- overactive thyroid or parathyroid gland
- reduced estrogen and testosterone
- pituitary gland disorders
- family history
- low body mass index
- long-term steroid use
- eating disorders
- digestive diseases that affect nutrient absorption
- some breast cancer and prostate cancer medications
- extended bed rest
- heavy drinking
- rheumatoid arthritis
DDD risk factors include:
- increased age
- increased height
- heavy physical work
- genetic factors
Osteoporosis often has
Many people with DDD don’t have symptoms or can manage their symptoms with home treatment. Some people may need surgery to reduce chronic pain.
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about osteoporosis and DDD.
How can I prevent osteoporosis?
Ways you can
- eating a balanced diet high in vitamin D, calcium, and protein
- limiting alcohol
- avoiding smoking
- staying physical active
How can I prevent degenerative disc disease?
You may be able to slow the progression of DDD by:
- maintaining a moderate weight
- avoiding smoking
- breaking up periods of sitting with stretching
- exercising regularly
How common are osteoporosis and degenerative disc disease?
Osteoporosis and DDD are both common. Osteoporosis is when your bone mineral density drops lower than normal. DDD is when one or more of the disks between your vertebrae start to break down.
Some evidence suggests that osteoporosis may increase your risk of DDD by damaging the endplates of your vertebrae. Researchers are continuing to examine the connection.