Degenerative joint disease vs. degenerative disc disease

Degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease are two very similar-sounding conditions that can affect the spine, so you may find yourself wondering, “What’s the difference between these conditions?” Here’s a guide for distinguishing between the two.

Degenerative joint disease

Degenerative joint disease is also known as osteoarthritis, which describes the wearing away of the soft tissue that provides padding around the joints. It can occur in any of the joints throughout the body, including the many facet joints found in the vertebrae of the spine. When this condition occurs in the spine, it can begin to cause stiffness, swelling, and pain when an affected joint is engaged as well as general neck or back pain.

Degenerative disc disease

On the other hand, degenerative disc disease specifically refers to the deterioration of the discs within the spinal column, making it a condition that only occurs in the spine. Spinal discs provide padding between the vertebrae and, as we age, these discs lose their elasticity and can begin to flatten or become misshapen. These changes may go unnoticed for years until a disc comes in contact with a spinal nerve. When this occurs, it can result in pain, numbness and tingling in the neck or back and radiating out to an extremity.

Similarities between these conditions

Both of these conditions are degenerative, which means they develop gradually and can be a natural part of the aging process. The spine endures a lot of stress over the years of providing support and flexibility, and like other parts of the body, its components deteriorate as we age. Because symptoms of these two spinal conditions both primarily result in pain and other similar symptoms, a physician will need to run a test to diagnose the condition.

Conservative options are the first step in treating both degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease and aim to alleviate the symptoms. These methods include:

  • Resting the back in limited quantities
  • Improving posture and losing weight to reduce stress on the spine
  • Physical therapy, low-impact exercises and stretching techniques to strengthen the muscles around the spine
  • Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to help with pain relief

In many cases, some combination of conservative treatment options will provide sufficient relief from symptoms of these spinal conditions. However, if symptoms persist over time, a physician may recommend surgery to treat the underlying cause. The skilled surgeons at Laser Spine Institute are highly experienced in performing minimally invasive spinal procedures which are a safer alternative to traditional open back surgery and require a shorter recovery time.^

If you are dealing with symptoms of degenerative disc disease or degenerative joint disease and would like to know if you’re a candidate for minimally invasive surgery at Laser Spine Institute, contact us to receive a no-cost MRI review.*