Degenerative spine FAQ

A degenerative spine condition diagnosis can bring on a lot of questions. While the best person to ask about your particular condition is your diagnosing physician, getting general information can also help you become more involved and engaged in your treatment. The experts at Laser Spine Institute are often asked to address these common questions regarding a degenerative spine:

Q: What is a degenerative spine?

A: The spine is a highly complex structure composed of vertebrae, joints, discs, muscles and ligaments. Because these components endure significant wear and tear during the course of daily activity, they are vulnerable to deterioration over time. Effects of aging also play a role, causing the parts to dry out and become less elastic and more brittle. The discs in particular are under continual stress because they serve as shock absorbers between the bony vertebrae. The spine’s facet joints, which are located in between individual vertebrae, are also prone to degeneration as they support the many movements that the neck and back perform. The cumulative effect of this ongoing pressure can sometimes result in degenerative spine disorders like degenerative disc disease and spinal osteoarthritis.

Q: What causes a degenerative spine?

A: While it can sometimes result from a traumatic injury, a degenerative spine most often develops along with the natural aging process. Age-related changes in the spinal anatomy can cause its components to gradually break down and lose their protective capabilities. For example, the discs can become thin and brittle, and the cartilage that lines the spinal joints can begin to wear away. As a result, a disc might be forced outside of its boundaries or rupture, or bone-on-bone contact can occur from worn out joints.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: When damaged disc material or an excess bony growth associated with a degenerative spine is positioned in such a way that it exerts pressure on the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root, painful symptoms can result. Common symptoms include localized and radiating pain, tingling, numbness and weakness. Depending on the site of the neural compression, the symptoms can be felt in various areas of the body, such as the neck, back, shoulders, arms, hands, buttocks, legs and feet. Spinal joints that are showing signs of osteoarthritis will cause chronic neck and back pain and stiffness that might also affect the shoulders and pelvic region.

Q: What are some treatment options?

A: Most often, treatment for a degenerative spine will begin conservatively with periods of rest, pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medications, exercise and physical therapy. However, nonsurgical therapies like these do not always deliver adequate relief to resume normal activities and surgery may be recommended. In these cases, traditional open spine surgery is not the only way to address a degenerative spine. The board-certified surgeons+ at Laser Spine Institute perform minimally invasive spine surgery that is an alternative to the risks and difficulties that come with traditional procedures.

Q: Will I need surgery?

A: If your symptoms persist or worsen following several weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment, you may be a candidate for spinal surgery. To learn about the minimally invasive options available at Laser Spine Institute, please contact us today. We offer a no-cost MRI* review to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our outpatient procedures.