How to treat degenerative changes in the spine

Degenerative changes in the spine develop over time and can affect many different components of the neck and back. For example, as you grow older, the cartilage discs that serve as shock absorbers between the bony vertebrae begin to break down. This atrophy occurs due to water loss in the normally spongy discs, and can lead to bulging, cracks or even tears in a disc’s tough, exterior layers. While these initial degenerative changes in the spine typically do not cause pain, in some instances, disc tissue may pinch a spinal nerve, causing pain, numbness, weakness, muscle spasms and tingling in the neck, back and extremities. Other age-related changes can affect the spine’s facet joints, ligaments, muscles and more, causing some people to experience debilitating symptoms.

Treatments

A few treatment options that a physician might recommend include the following:

  • Rest – Standing and sitting can place more pressure on those painful areas. Lying on the floor with your face up and knees bent a few times each day may relieve pressure. Applying cold or heat packs to affected areas during rest time is believed to alleviate symptoms, too.
  • Exercise – Flexion exercises (bending forward) will stretch the lower back and lengthen the spine, while extension exercises (lying on the floor and arching the spine) will help separate the vertebrae in the lower back while maintaining the natural spinal curve. Symptoms from degenerative changes in the spine may also diminish with exercises such as yoga, swimming and walking. Check with your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
  • Medications – Over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medicines may lessen pain. Your primary care physician can prescribe stronger medications or injections, if needed.
  • Specialists – Chiropractors are trained in spinal manipulation, a technique that can help temporarily decompress areas of the spine that are pinching nerves. Another option is visiting a neurologist, which is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders.

If these treatments don’t decrease your pain

If you are experiencing painful degenerative changes in the spine, it might be time to consider seeking an alternative treatment, such as the minimally invasive, outpatient procedures performed by the orthopedic surgeons at Laser Spine Institute. Contact us to learn about our effective alternatives to traditional open back surgery and to receive a review of your MRI or CT scan.