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Degenerative disc disease – a non-nourishing potentially potent linguistic construction

Let’s dissect the common term/diagnosis ‘degenerative disc disease’. It is a triple alliteration with the three D’s. It also has an internal rhyme based around the “i’s”, and the five syllables of de-gen-er-at-ion give it a rollicking rhythm –  all of which make it very sticky in the brain. The phrase is also a set of three words, which in itself provides rhythm. Advertisers always knew the power of three (think ‘a Mars a day helps you work rest and play’  or ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’). D ratings in many rating systems were never the best! Degenerative Disc Disease is definitely a dangerously dirty DIM.

Apart from its linguistic power, each element of it is false – degenerative findings are frequently normal age changes perhaps with some local or meta-inflammation,  the changes are not just disc – but disc, vertebral and ligamentous. And it is certainly not a disease.

My friend Dr Graham Wright is right onto this. He suggest the name discovertebral changes. Disco certainly gives it liveliness and a bounciness. He also suggests  discovertebral age adaptive changes, thus you can tell someone that they have a discovertebral AA rating and that the pain they are experiencing has very little do with any changes noted on scans. I like it!




  1. Amanda Simister

    Thanks David- I really dislike this term- almost as much as ” perforated discs” which seems to be creeping in to patients’ vernacular as well.
    I will start to refer to DDD as Discovertebral changes and see how it goes down! ( all the way to funky town, perhaps…)

  2. davidbutler0noi

    Thanks Amanda,

    When you think about it, such terms are really offensive slurs. I have been looking around for research or a conference to attend where pain/health linguistics is dealt with in some details. Not a lot on still!


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