Myth: The darkly shaded disc on my MRE indicates I have degenerative disc disease.
Truth: In the vast majority of cases, "degenerative disc disease" is a misdiagnosis. Dark shading of the discs visible on an MRI or CT scan is a sign of loss of water content in the spine. This happens to all of us as we age and is akin to the appearance of wrinkles on our faces. The idea of labeling this a "degenerative disease" is unnecessarily dramatic and is unhelpful in determining a course of action for the patient. However, if only one disc is different than the others in its apparent darkness, it is likely that it is a flattened disc and is the product of an injury - not aging. When left alone, (and not contorted into unnatural positions such as in yoga) this disc eventually stiffens over time and the pain resolves. As this natural healing process is occurring, the disc will naturally appear darker on an MRI.
Stuart McGill PhD