Degenerative joint disease — FAQ

Q. What is degenerative joint disease?

A. Degenerative joint disease (DJD) is another term for osteoarthritis, which is inflammation of the joints caused by the natural deterioration of protective cartilage and joint fluid. These elements lubricate the joints and allow for smooth motion, but as they dry out and wear down over time, increased bone-on-bone contact leads to friction and the resulting symptoms of arthritis. In the spine, degenerative joint disease affects the facet joints, which link together the vertebrae, causing “facet disease”:/back_problems/facet_disease/.

Q. What are the primary causes of degenerative joint disease?

A. DJD is primarily an age-related condition, but there are other contributing factors, including genetics, weight, injury and posture. The facet joints are vulnerable to degeneration because they must help support the upper body while enabling the bending and twisting required of the spine. Any extra weight or impact can lead to the acceleration of this deterioration and an earlier onset of degenerative joint disease.

Q. What are the common symptoms?

A. Symptoms of degenerative joint disease include aches and pains, stiffness and cracking or popping sensations. This condition can also result in spinal narrowing and nerve compression, both from swollen joints and by bone spurs that develop as a result of increased joint friction.

Q. How do I treat this condition?

A. Treatment of DJD usually involves an initial course of conservative methods. This can include periods of rest, anti-inflammatory medication, hot and cold compression, moderate exercise, massage and physical therapy. Doctors may also recommend healthy lifestyle choices like posture improvement, weight management and ceasing use of tobacco products. In a large number of cases, patients are able to engage in normal, comfortable activity without having to resort to surgery.

Q. When should I think about surgery?

A. Surgery is seen as a last-resort treatment option due to the large incision, muscle disruption, overnight hospitalization and long recovery period required by a traditional open spine procedure. However, Laser Spine Institute offers an alternative with minimally invasive spine surgery. Our surgeons use a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine, sparing muscles and offering our patients less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time compared to traditional open spine procedures.^

If you’d like to learn more, contact our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our outpatient procedures.