Degenerative joint disease of the spine

Degenerative joint disease of the spine, also called spinal osteoarthritis or facet disease, is a condition that affects the facet joints of the spine. Spinal facet joints are sliding joints that allow the spine to move. The surfaces of these joints are covered in cartilage and a lubricating fluid. Joint disease causes this cartilage to wear away and the joint to become inflamed, leading to painful symptoms like stiffness, instability, joint lockage and even deformity. These symptoms cause discomfort and loss of mobility that can seriously disrupt your life if they go untreated. If you are dealing with these kinds of issues, knowing more about the causes and treatment options for this condition can help get you back to doing the things you enjoy.

What causes degenerative joint disease of the spine?

Causes of spinal degenerative joint disease can be divided into two categories:

  • Primary. The primary cause of most types of osteoarthritis is the natural aging process. After years of wear, cartilage begins to lose water content and collagen fibers break down. The deterioration of cartilage causes bone to rub against bone, which can lead to the formation of bone spurs.
  • Secondary. Secondary causes of degenerative joint disease may include obesity, traumatic injury, viral or bacterial infections, a birth defect, a weakened immune system, repetitive motion injury and illnesses like gout and diabetes.

Spinal joint disease does not always cause symptoms and milder cases may only cause some local irritation and stiffness. More severe issues occur when an inflamed joint or a bone spur puts pressure on the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root. This can cause chronic and debilitating pain that sends patients to their doctor’s office for diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment options

The goal of surgery for degenerative joint disease of the spine is to decompress spinal nerves by accessing the spine and removing displaced material. More invasive surgeries like spinal fusion are sometimes recommended to stabilize diseased joints. Before considering surgery, most doctors attempt a course of conservative treatments including pain or anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, spinal injections and lifestyle changes like weight loss or quitting tobacco use.

If you have exhausted conservative options but are anxious about the prospect of traditional open back surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our board-certified surgeons+ perform minimally invasive spine surgery that uses muscle-sparing techniques to access the spine and decompress nerves.

We also offer minimally invasive stabilization procedures that are an alternative to traditional open spinal fusions. All of our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis, so they come with fewer risks and a shorter recovery period^ than traditional open spine procedures. To see if you may be a candidate, reach out to our caring team today for your no-cost MRI review.*