Introduction: The degenerative processes of the intervertebral disc represent an important cause of morbidity in everyday clinical practice, exerting burden on patients and clinicians treating them. Numerous factors may initiate degenerative processes, which most commonly affect the nucleus pulposus and ultimately influence the biomechanics of the whole spine. Aim: This paper provides an overview from the literature about the process, causes and mechanisms of disc degeneration and the associated factors. Methods: The scientific literature was reviewed through PubMed, Medline and Science Direct. The articles were chosen in correlation with the study objective and their scientific relevance. Results: Many mechanical factors, such as mechanical, traumatic, genetic and nutritional, may affect the integrity of the intervertebral disc. The degenerative processes involve the structural damage of the intervertebral disc and the changes in number and composition of cells. The main factor in the degeneration of the intervertebral disc is the loss of proteoglycans. Degenerative changes of the disc are connected to damage of adjacent structures, leading to functional changes, higher susceptibility to injuries and clinical signs and symptoms. Conclusions: Degenerative disease of the intervertebral disc remains a significant health problem. Besides standard conservative and surgical treatment, techniques of regenerative therapy are becoming very promising, although still in the experimental phase.
Key words: intervertebral disc, fibrous annulus, nucleus pulposus, degenerative disease, spine.