I'm only 38 years old and the doctor tells me I have disc degeneration. I thought this was a disease of old age? Why am I falling apart so soon?

We don't know everything there is to know yet about disc disease. Why do some people start developing disc problems at a young age? How can severe symptoms occur with mild disease and no symptoms with severe disease? What is the role of family genetics in all this?

These and other questions are under investigation by researchers around the world. A recent study from Finland may offer a bit of insight. They found many adults between the ages of 35 and 70 who had back pain from blocked arteries in the low back and sacral areas.

The blockage was linked to high (LDL) cholesterol levels. LDL stands for low-density cholesterol. Some people call these the "lousy" cholesterol. A loss of blood supply to the discs leads to lack of nutrition to the discs. Tissues without oxygen and nutrients quickly shrink (atrophy) and degenerate.

Atherosclerosis, the formation of plaques in the blood vessels, does occur with increasing age. When LDL levels are elevated at an early age, it's often a family trait. Changes of this type have been seen in teenagers and start to increase around age 30. Early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent worsening of this condition.