Degenerative changes in the spine manifest themselves in several ways, and the combination of these occurrences can lead to more serious and painful problems. Every person will exhibit these changes to some extent as they age, with most occurrences becoming an issue in a person’s 40s or 50s. Whether or not age-related changes have affected you yet, you might still be asking yourself, “What are degenerative changes in the spine?”
One of the first signs of spinal degeneration appears in the intervertebral discs. The spongy discs of cartilage that cushion the bones of the spine (vertebrae) begin to dehydrate over time. This dehydration diminishes the stability of the fibrous outer layer of the disc and can eventually lead to a bulging or herniated disc.
Other age-related changes in the spine, such as collapsed discs and osteoarthritis, can eventually lead to the bony vertebrae rubbing against each other, which leads to the development of osteophytes (bone spurs). These bony overgrowths can protrude into tissue or nerve roots. The facet joints that connect the backside of vertebrae are especially susceptible to cartilage breakdown and bone spur development.
A few degenerative spinal conditions
- Degenerative disc disease (DDD) – Degenerative disc disease, although not actually a disease, is one of the most common degenerative changes in the spine. It is characterized by the breakdown of spinal disc cartilage. Eventually, a disc bulge or rupture can exert pressure on a nerve root, or the thinning of discs can cause vertebrae to move closer together and pinch nerve tissue. Factors such as aging, general wear and tear and poor lifestyle choices can contribute to DDD.
- Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis is the most frequently diagnosed form of arthritis and is also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Spinal osteoarthritis generally occurs in the lower back, or lumbar region, but can also develop in the cervical (neck) and thoracic (mid-back) regions. As cartilage wears away on the facet joints of the spine, it can lead to pain, inflammation and bone spurs. The spine loses flexibility and stiffens.
- Spinal stenosis – This is the narrowing of the spinal canal, which can lead to pinched nerves. Pain, numbness, tingling and weakness can occur. In severe cervical (neck) cases, where the spinal cord in the neck is compressed, the whole body weakens and paralysis may develop.
How is your quality of life?
If you’re experiencing neck and back pain, it may be due to degenerative changes in the spine. Consult your physician about the many conservative treatments available, such as rest, hot/cold application, physical therapy and various medications. If these treatments do not relieve your pain and other symptoms, contact the orthopedic experts at Laser Spine Institute today to learn more about our minimally invasive procedures that can help you find relief from neck and back pain.