Degenerative joint disease (DJD) is the gradual deterioration of the articular cartilage within joints. In the spine, the joints that connect adjacent vertebrae and allow them to flex and extend freely are called facet joints. The spine is especially vulnerable to deterioration because it is involved in many movements while bearing the body’s weight. Once the cartilage wears away, denuded facet articular surfaces grind against each other, causing inflammation, pain, stiffness and stimulating the formation of bone spurs, or osteophytes. Bone spurs are extra growths of bone that pose the risk of compressing nearby spinal nerves.
Causes and symptoms
Degenerative joint disease of the spine, also called facet disease or spinal osteoarthritis, is primarily caused by the natural aging process, though it can be accelerated by factors like smoking, obesity, overexertion, illness, gender, and genetic predisposition. It is not necessarily a symptomatic condition and, in fact, most people over the age of 50 probably have some degree of mild joint degeneration without knowing it. Symptoms present when inflammation becomes more severe and/or anatomical abnormalities, like bone spurs, press on spinal nerves. The discomfort associated with degenerative joint disease can present in any of the following ways:
- Throbbing or aching at the site of degeneration
- A painful feeling of bone rubbing against bone, called crepitus
- Joint stiffness or spontaneous joint lockage
- Reduced range of motion
- Tingling or numbness when spinal nerves are compressed
There is no cure for degenerative joint disease, though many people are able to manage their symptoms non-surgically with the help of conservative therapies. Talk to your physician about a treatment plan that includes pain medication, stretching, physical therapy, or behavior modification. In the event that weeks or months of these methods prove ineffective at managing your pain, contact Laser Spine Institute. We will tell you more about safe, effective endoscopic procedures that may be able to help you recover spinal health.