Degenerative spine changes

Degenerative spine changes are age-related conditions that affect the parts of the spine. Because the spine is built to both support the upper body and be flexible enough for movement, it is especially vulnerable to wearing out. This can lead to debilitating pain and other symptoms if the spinal cord or an exiting nerve is affected by this breakdown.

If you are dealing with pain and limited mobility that you believe is related to a degenerative spine condition, meaningful treatment is available. Learning as much as possible about the spine and the causes of degenerative spine changes can help you make a care decision with the best chance of getting you back to an active life.

Overview of spinal anatomy

Your spine is made of a column of bones called vertebrae, which protects the spinal cord from injury. The vertebrae are connected by joints and cushioned by the spinal discs, which help the spine flex, rotate and absorb shock. The discs and joints are both subjected to the natural aging process — reduced blood flow and nutrients cause them to become brittle, less able to withstand the pressure being put on them.

These degenerative spine changes are not necessarily painful themselves, only causing symptoms when they interfere with a nerve. This happens if a damaged disc or inflamed joint gets out of alignment and puts pressure on any of the tightly packed nerves in the spine.

Below are a few common conditions caused by degenerative spine changes that can be a source of chronic pain:

  • Spondylolisthesis — a vertebra slips forward and over the one beneath it
  • Sciatica — a sharp pain shooting down one leg due to compression of the sciatic nerve
  • Herniated disc — a damaged disc lining tears and pushes inner fluid into spinal canal
  • Bulging disc — a disc begins to expand beyond its normal perimeter
  • Thinning disc — a disc collapses, sometimes causing the surrounding vertebrae to press on spinal nerves
  • Bone spurs — smooth bone growths caused by arthritis that can pinch nerves
  • Facet disease — facet joints that link vertebrae together begin to degenerate
  • Degenerative spine arthritis — cartilage between the spine’s facet joints wears away, causing stiffness and pain

Treatment options

Degenerative spine changes like the ones listed above are treatable. Upon diagnosis, a doctor will usually prescribe an initial course of conservative treatment including massage, physical therapy, pain medication, cortisone injections, exercise and periods of rest. Surgery is usually seen as a last resort because of the highly invasive nature of traditional open back procedures.

If you are considering surgery to treat symptoms but are uneasy about some of the difficulties that can go with traditional surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive, outpatient spine surgery offers a shorter recovery time with less scarring^ compared to traditional open spine procedures. This is because our surgeons can access the spine with a smaller muscle-sparing incision.

To see if you may be a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery, reach out to our Care Team today to receive your no-cost MRI review.*