Spine degeneration, including degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, and spinal osteoarthritis, occurs gradually over time. They are a normal side-effect of growing older. While some degree of spine degeneration is unavoidable, the severity and location varies widely from individual to individual. In some instances, an individual presents no sign of the degeneration. Yet in others, spine degeneration causes a variety of early onset debilitating symptoms in the back, neck, and extremities.
Another common term for spine degeneration is degenerative disc disease, but this expression is a bit of a misnomer. Not actually a disease, this disorder occurs when the protein and water content of the spongy, shock absorbing intervertebral discs changes, causing the discs to become weakened, fragile, or thinned. This is not necessarily symptomatic, but should the abnormal disc herniate or become fragmented and extrude into the spinal column, the adjoining nerve structures may become irritated. It is when the spinal cord or nerve roots become compressed or inflamed that pain and other symptoms follow.
Spine degeneration is also known as (DDD). This name is a misnomer because DDD is actually not a disease. DDD is actually an ongoing process found in everyone. With age, intervertebral discs naturally degenerate, resulting in decreased flexibility and increased susceptibility to injury. Medical research has found the following: According to the U. S. National Institutes of Health, at birth the human body contains 90% water, at adulthood it contains 70% water, and by age 90 it contains about 50% water. Additionally, the composition of elastin, the protein giving tissues the ability to stretch, chemically changes. With age, elastin undergoes chemical cross-linking. This decreases the ability to stretch. With aging, bodies desiccate and become less stretchable. These two facts explain disc degeneration. Discs have two main components, an outer fibro-elastic containment rim and an inner soft gelatinous core. When axial loading pressure occurs along the spinal column, the central gelatinous core of the disc squeezes outward against the fibro-elastic containment rim of the disc. The elastic recoil of the containment wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, reestablishing the height and shape of the disc. As a person ages, natural daily activity causes repeated loading of the disc. Tiny tears may develop in the fibers of the fibro-elastic outer containment wall. This causes some loss of the disc’s outer containment wall elasticity or recoil. The outer disc containment wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer containment wall sags, and is said to bulge or collapse. The disc may even herniate. This sequence of events is spine degeneration or DDD. The process is ubiquitous.
Degenerative disc disease and spinal osteoarthritis typically go hand-in-hand. Spinal osteoarthritis is a disease of the spine’s facet joints. The loss of disc height is a characteristic of DDD, changing the way in which facet joints contact one another. The contact points are the facet joint’s articular surfaces. Facet joint articular surfaces become roughened. These glossy surfaces then wear away giving spinal osteoarthritis. This can make it painful for you to turn your neck or body, and also can lead to stiffness and difficulty standing.
Typical symptoms of spine degeneration include:
- Local, chronic neck or back pain
- Radiating pain along the nerve root into the extremities
- Muscle weakness
- Stiffness or soreness
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Bladder and bowel incontinence and severe weakness in extreme, emergency cases
Those experiencing symptoms associated with spine degeneration can normally be managed conservatively with specified exercise and heat packs, together with anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications. However, some patients do not respond to conservative treatment and surgery is prescribed. It is reasonable to determine the least invasive efficacious surgical treatment possible. Please investigate the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. We offer efficacious procedures with shorter convalescent period and lower risk when compared with traditional open spine surgery of all types. Contact us today for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan, and to receive more information about our institute.