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 6% of men and 21% of women older than 50 years of age worldwide have osteoporosis.

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.

Some evidence suggests that osteoporosis may be associated with an increased risk of DDD. Read on to learn more about the connection.

Language matters

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.

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Osteoporosis is a loss of bone mineral density that puts you at risk of bone fracture. About 70% of your bones are made up of minerals, primarily calcium and phosphorous.

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.

It’s normal for your disks to wear down with age. Estimates vary, but DDD has been reported in upwards of 35% of people who are 20 years old and 95% of people who are 80 years old.

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.

Whether osteoporosis increases the risk of disk degeneration remains debated. Theoretically, osteoporosis may weaken your endplates and compromise the ability of your disks to get nutrients.

In a 2019 study, researchers found a significant correlation between osteoporosis and endplate damage in 156 people with DDD. According to the researchers, their study shows the first evidence linking osteoporosis and endplate damage in human subjects.

Here’s a look at some of the differences between osteoporosis and DDD.

OsteoporosisDegenerative disk disease
usually starts after age 50generally starts at a younger age
affects your bonesaffects the disk between your vertebrae
usually painless until bone fracturemay cause pain or neurological symptoms if nerve roots are compressed
women more often affectedoften starts younger in men but similar rates between sexes

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. Spinal fracture might cause:

  • severe back pain
  • loss of height
  • stooped or hunched posture

Learn more about osteoporosis symptoms.

Degenerative disc disease

Many people with evidence of DDD on imaging don’t have symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they usually occur due to pinching of the nerve root.

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.

Osteoporosis treatment

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.

Bisphosphates include:

  • zoledronic acid
  • risedronate
  • alendronate
  • ibandronate

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:

Learn more about osteoporosis treatment.

Degenerative disc disease treatment

DDD doesn’t usually need treatment unless you have symptoms. Treatment may include:

If these treatments aren’t effective, a doctor may recommend an artificial disk replacement.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

DDD risk factors include:

  • increased age
  • increased height
  • obesity
  • heavy physical work
  • smoking
  • genetic factors

Osteoporosis often has good outcomes if found early. It can lead to chronic pain, problems with your posture, and reduced quality of life if you develop fractures.

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 prevent osteoporosis include:

  • 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?

Approximately 10 million people older than 50 years of age in the United States have DDD. Studies have reported that more than 60% of people older than 40 years of age have signs of DDD.

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.