A lot of terms come up in Illinois workers’ compensation cases which can be confusing or misleading.  Degenerative disc disease is one such term.

Degenerative disc disease (“DDD”) is not just a condition for older individuals. Degenerative disc disease is a condition that causes extreme back pain that sometimes also includes pain that travels from the back down to the legs. The word “disease” can be misleading to some as it is not actually a disease nor is it always degenerative. So what exactly IS degenerative disc disease?

As you age, there are normal changes that happen to your spinal discs that may cause pain in your back and or your neck. Degenerative disc disease is an umbrella term to describe changes that may occur to your spine like nerve impingement and bulging discs. The discs between your vertebrae work as shock absorbers. When those discs lose their watery content, it causes the nerve openings in the spine to narrow which in turn lessens the effectiveness of those shock absorbers. It can also lead to other spinal issues like spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis in the spine, and spondylolisthesis; all of which cause severe nerve pain, and spinal pain.

However, getting older isn’t the only cause and contributor to degenerative disc disease.  According to one study, the average age at diagnosis was only 34 years old for men and 36 years old for women, with the symptoms and pain getting much worse as the individual ages. There are many contributors besides age to degenerative disc disease. Trauma, motor vehicle accidents, falling, and other physical accidents as well as wear and tear from walking and running, incorrect body movements, poor posture, repeated heavy lifting and heavy physical work,  can all be the cause of degenerative disc disease in a much younger person.

Degenerative disc disease may be hard to diagnose. Your doctor may do a physical exam and look over your medical history. The physical exam may include range of motion tests, numbness and reflex tests, and check for fractures or even infection. Your doctor will probably also send you for imaging tests, but sometimes the imagining such as x-ray and MRIs will not show damage that is equal to the amount of pain you may be suffering from.  The good news is that degenerative disc disease isn’t always debilitating. In fact, many people will be diagnosed and then with physical therapy and strengthening and stretching exercises they feel better and even return to work and other normal life activities. In other cases, a spinal fusion surgery may be needed to ease the everyday pain.

Insurance companies are quick to fight in court blaming DDD for your continued back pain in an attempt to disallow your claim. However, there are many reasons why your job duties may actually be making your DDD much worse which would make it possible to bring a case for relief.  If you have DDD and you have a career that requires you to sit or stand for long periods in the same position, make repetitive motions or even if your job requires high impact activities, it is probable that your job is making your DDD worse.

Aggravation of a preexisting condition such as DDD is covered by workers compensation, regardless of what an insurance company tries to tell you. Even if the work related injury is just a factor in the aggravation of the preexisting condition, you may have a claim for workers compensation for your disability.

If you have DDD or any other injury that you want to discuss, contact us 24/7 for a free, confidential consultation.