As your body ages, it will undergo many changes. For example, your skin may become dry and lose elasticity, your arteries and blood vessels may begin to stiffen, your muscles may lose strength, and your bones may shrink in density. The spine is composed of vertebrae and spinal discs, and may also degenerate as part of the aging process. Nearly everyone will have some form of disc degeneration after the age of 40.
Degenerative spine conditions are a result of a gradual loss of the normal structure and function of the spine. Symptoms include pain, limited range of motion, deformity, and nerve problems. Not to be confused with degenerative disc disease, which is a series of symptoms associated with the wear and tear of the spinal discs.
Osteoarthritis of the Spine
A very common cause of low back pain is osteoarthritis of the spine. There are five sets of facet joints located in the lower back, and over time, the protective cartilage that covers the ends may wear down, causing the bones to rub together and become inflamed. The characteristic small size of the joints also makes them susceptible to injury and can cause the joints to degenerate. Symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis include pain that runs into the buttocks and a burning sensation that runs from outside the thigh down into the legs, swelling, stiffness, and loss of flexibility. In late-stage spinal osteoarthritis, bony spurs may begin to form and narrow the spinal canal in a condition called spinal stenosis. The bony spurs press on the nerve roots further worsening of the symptoms.
As the spinal discs dry out, they are no longer able to handle mechanical stress and can no longer absorb weight and shock during motion. The degenerated discs become prone to herniation. Herniated discs have the jelly portion pushed out into the spinal canal, which irritates and inflames the surrounding nerves causing symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness.
How are degenerative spine conditions treated?
Degenerative spine conditions may be treated using conservative treatment methods (focusing on pain management) and in most cases, that’s all that is required. With medication, bracing, and physical therapy, patients experience relief from symptoms and restoration of function. Minimally-invasive therapies include injection therapy, where a steroid and anesthetic is delivered into the epidural space for long-term relief of symptoms. An individualized treatment program proves to be most effective.
If after exhausting all conservative and minimally-invasive treatment options, the patient still does not find relief, surgery may be recommended. Usually, patients with severe and persistent pain with nerve dysfunction are recommended surgery.
Spine Surgeon in Rochester Hills, Bad Axe, or Lapeer, Michigan
Patients who seek early treatment for degenerative spine conditions usually have better outcomes. The only way to know if your symptoms are caused by a degenerative spine condition is to see an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Bradley D. Ahlgren of Ahlgren Spine is a board-certified spine surgeon who can quickly diagnose your condition and reveal damaged discs through advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Dr. Ahlgren creates customized treatment plans for his patients. To schedule an appointment, call (248) 215-8080 or use our convenient online request form.