Risk factors that can lead to a degenerative spine

By Michael Perry, M.D.

The two main degenerative spine risk factors are virtually unavoidable: an aging body and traumatic injury. The natural aging process can dehydrate the spinal discs, making them lose elasticity. Aging also causes the spinal facet joints, where vertebrae meet and flex, to wear out. An injury, such as a compression fracture, can shift the spinal anatomy and worsen an existing degenerative condition. In addition to age and injury, lifestyle factors like smoking, poor diet, excessive weight and overuse may speed up spine degeneration.

While not every degenerative condition causes symptoms, disc or joint deterioration can lead to nerve compression — which can cause pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness. These symptoms can have a big impact on your life if they happen, turning even simple tasks into painful ordeals. While there is no way to completely prevent a degenerative spine condition, knowing as much as possible about the risk factors that can lead to them offers the best chance of avoiding painful symptoms.

Limiting degenerative spine risk factors

There are many lifestyle decisions that have a serious impact on your overall health, which in turn can affect your spine health and your risk level for degenerative conditions like disc disease or spinal arthritis. Here are three practical things anyone can do to limit their onset:

  • Modify activities to avoid back stress — If there are particular exercises or activities that seem to trigger back pain, it makes sense to avoid those activities if possible. In addition to practicing good posture at all times, it is important to also use proper technique when lifting heavy objects and participating in sports.
  • Stay active — An active lifestyle, with regular, physician-approved exercise, helps the discs retain water and keeps the bones and muscles in the neck and back strong. This, in turn, improves spinal stability and may slow degeneration.
  • Eat well — A lower calorie, nutrient-rich diet helps with weight loss. Extra weight means the vertebrae and discs from have to support more weight than they were designed to carry. Good nutrition also helps support spinal strength. Drinking plenty of water keeps the discs hydrated and helps joints stay lubricated.

Treating the symptoms of degenerative spine

If a condition is diagnosed, in many cases symptoms associated with degenerative spine can be managed with conservative options like pain medication, physical therapy and the above lifestyle changes. However, if chronic pain or discomfort persists despite weeks or months of conservative treatment, surgery might become an option.

Traditional open back surgery for nerve compression related to conditions such as a herniated disc, a bulging disc or facet disease involves a hospital stay and a lengthy recuperation.

Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive alternatives to traditional surgery. These outpatient procedures use a smaller incision that allows our surgeons to access the spine without unnecessarily severing important supporting muscles. This leads to dramatically shorter recuperation periods^ for our patients as well as less scarring and less risk of complications.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today to learn more and for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.