Degeneration of the lumbar intervertebral discs (IVDs) is highly prevalent in adults and nearly universal in the elderly population. Degenerative changes within, and adjacent to, the IVDs are likely to contribute to a variety of pain syndromes; however, the exact association between these findings and symptoms remains speculative. Recent research has provided new information regarding the etiology, pathophysiology, and clinical relevance of degeneration of the IVD. This information will assist clinicians and researchers in understanding the development and clinical course of lumbar disc degeneration, as well as its potential impact upon patients seeking physical therapy care for back pain. The purposes of this clinical commentary are to review the structure and metabolic capacity of the normal and degenerative lumbar IVD, and to discuss factors that influence the onset and progression of disc degeneration. Lumbar magnetic resonance images will be used to illustrate the common findings associated with this condition.• LEVEL OF EVIDENCE:
Diagnosis, level 5.