Degeneration of the disc over time produces low-grade inflammation and irritation and is a major cause of chronic low back pain. Because the discs in the spine do not have a dedicated blood supply, the discs must rely on a process called diffusion to receive their supply of water, nutrients, and oxygen. If the flow of these elements is disrupted, the vertebral discs can degenerate. This is a state of dehydration. Degenerative discs become more susceptible to injury from physical stress and day-to-day activities which can play a contributing role to serious conditions such as disc herniation, osteoarthritis, and spinal stenosis.

Degenerative changes in the lower back also can diminish the ability of the spine to carry the load of the upper body. This can lead to forward slippage of one vertebra on another, a painful condition called spondylolisthesis.