Degenerative changes in the spine occur in all human beings as we age. However, the symptoms exhibited, if displayed at all, will take on several forms. Age-related degenerative changes in the spine typically begin with the desiccation, or loss of water, in the discs of cartilage located between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). These discs, the shock absorbers of the spine, consist of a jelly-like nucleus and a fibrous outer layer of cartilage. Further degeneration becomes evident as the dehydrated discs weaken and are compressed by the vertebrae. The compression can cause the inner disc material to expand outward and strain the surface layer, resulting in a bulging disc. When a crack in the outer layer forms, the gel-like material can seep out. This is called a herniated disc. For the most part, these examples of degenerative disc disease do not cause pain or other symptoms, but when symptoms do present, the pain can be excruciating.
Other degenerative changes in the spine, such as osteophytes (bone spurs), spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canals), and osteoarthritis (inflammation of joints in the spine), all may produce symptoms of pain, stiffness, weakness, numbness, and tingling – especially if the nerve roots extending from the spinal cord, or the spinal cord itself, are impinged. Pain may worsen when sneezing, coughing, or overexerting – and even when reclining, sitting, or standing too long. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
Areas Where the Symptoms Will Manifest
The areas that the symptoms arise will typically depend on the location of the degenerative problem. Conditions occurring in the cervical region, or neck, may create neck stiffness, headaches, and a reduced range of motion, as well as pain radiating down to the shoulder blades, arms, and fingers. The majority of degenerative changes in the spine occur in the lower back, or lumbar region. Symptoms can include pain, stiffness, and muscle spasms. If the sciatic nerve is pinched, pain can radiate through the buttocks and down one or both of the legs to the feet. This condition is called sciatica. Thoracic, or mid-back, degenerative changes are relatively rare, as this region of the spine is anchored by the ribs and remains relatively stable.
When Symptoms Won’t Subside
If you’ve been dealing with back and neck pain and conservative treatment options haven’t helped, perhaps it’s time to consider the advanced endoscopic techniques at Laser Spine Institute. Our orthopedic specialists employ various outpatient procedures that have helped tens of thousands of people rediscover their lives without back and neck pain. Contact us today and schedule a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan.