Is spinal degeneration normal?

In a healthy spine, the vertebrae are cushioned by supple discs, which allow for a wide range of motion and flexibility. Some of this function can be lost due to spinal degeneration, which is a natural, age-related process that can cause the discs to flatten out and break down. In fact, most people exhibit some evidence of spinal degeneration as they get older. However, even though a degenerative spine is generally considered to be “normal,” the disruptive symptoms that may result are not.

Spinal degeneration can actually be completely pain-free. Usually, if discomfort occurs, it can be traced to a specific degenerative spine condition, such as a bulging or herniated disc, facet joint syndrome or spinal stenosis. Also, as degenerative changes take place in the spine, the body sometimes responds by producing protective bone spurs. Because these bony deposits take up valuable space within the spinal canal, the spinal cord or a nerve root can easily become pinched or compressed. In addition to neck or back pain, spinal nerve compression can produce a variety of other symptoms, such as muscle weakness, numbness and tingling sensations.

Does all of this mean a lifetime of pain? Not necessarily — with appropriate treatment, many people are able to live comfortably with degenerative spine issues.

Living with degenerative spine pain is not “normal”

Many degenerative spine symptoms can be managed with conservative treatment. Therefore, prior to recommending surgery, most physicians encourage their patients to try:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as consciously avoiding body positions and movements that stress the spine
  • Low-impact exercise and physical therapy
  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Epidural steroid injections

In many cases, nonsurgical therapies prove to be very helpful. Nevertheless, some patients ultimately decide that their symptoms warrant surgical treatment. For instance, surgery may be appropriate for an individual who is:

  • Limited by severe discomfort even after several months of conservative therapy
  • Diagnosed with a structural abnormality that can be surgically addressed
  • Experiencing neurological complications, such as a loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Dealing with a significantly diminished quality of life

Minimally invasive surgery for addressing a degenerative spine

If you are considering degenerative spine surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute. We can tell you about the benefits of our minimally invasive outpatient surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to a highly invasive open neck or back surgery.^ We can also provide you with a free MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate.