Can Degenerative Disc Disease Be Genetic?

Nov 02, 2023

Degenerative disc disease is a leading source of back pain worldwide. As you age, the discs that cushion your vertebrae begin to deteriorate, causing pain, stiffness, numbness, and tingling.

About 20% of people have some level of spinal disc degeneration by age 65. But is age the only factor? No. In fact, lots of other factors contribute to your risk of degenerative disc disease, including genetics.

Our team at Cascade Orthopaedics is here to help. From diagnosing the source of your pain to finding effective treatment, we’re ready to work with you to understand and relieve your back pain.


In this blog post, we're exploring the relationship between genetics and degenerative disc disease, shedding light on the role your genes may play in this often-painful condition.

Understanding degenerative disc disease

You have 25 spinal discs that sit between your vertebral bones. These discs act as shock absorbers, but they naturally break down over the decades.

As discs deteriorate, you’re more likely to experience back pain, stiffness, and nerve symptoms like numbness, tingling, and even muscle weakness. But contrary to its name, degenerative disc disease is not always a result of aging.

Degenerative disc disease can occur at any age and may result from various factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and environmental influences.

The role of genetics in degenerative disc disease

Genetics can indeed play a role in your risk of developing degenerative disc disease, and here’s how:

Family history

If your parents or siblings have experienced degenerative disc disease, you may be at an increased risk. Certain genetic factors can accelerate the degeneration of intervertebral discs, and family history could elevate your risk of developing degenerative disc disease at a younger age than others.

Genetic variations

Some genetic variations, particularly those related to collagen production and inflammation, could make you more susceptible to degenerative disc disease. 

Collagen is a protein that makes up a significant portion of your intervertebral discs, and alterations in collagen genes can affect disc health.

Inherited traits

Certain traits related to spine structure and function are inherited. These inherited traits could make you more prone to developing degenerative disc disease. For example, if you inherit a spine with abnormal curvature or disc shape, you might be at a higher risk of degenerative disc disease.

Other risk factors for degenerative disc disease

While genetics can affect your risk of degenerative disc disease, lifestyle and environmental factors also play a significant role in its development and progression. 

A family history of degenerative disc disease doesn’t mean a diagnosis is inevitable for you. In fact, lifestyle and environmental factors can have a greater impact on your spinal health than anything else. A few of these factors are:


Smoking and nicotine use are major risk factors for degenerative disc disease, no matter your family history. Nicotine products reduce blood flow to your spinal discs, impair their ability to receive nutrients, and can accelerate degeneration.

Weight and physical activity level

Obesity puts more pressure on your spine, which can contribute to disc degeneration. Living a sedentary lifestyle or spending a lot of time sitting can lead to lack of support in your spine, increasing your risk of poor posture and disc degeneration.

Occupation and activities

Jobs or activities that involve heavy lifting, repetitive bending, or other strenuous activities can increase your risk of degenerative disc disease, especially if you already have a genetic predisposition.

It’s true that genetics can contribute to degenerative disc disease, but it’s often just one piece of the puzzle. Genetics is not destiny, and even with a genetic predisposition, you can take control of your health and reduce your risk of developing or worsening degenerative disc disease.

Learn more and start a proactive treatment plan with our team at Cascade Orthopaedics. Call our offices in Auburn or Bonney Lake, Washington, or request an appointment online today.