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What are degenerative changes in the spine?

The phrase “degenerative changes in the spine” is often used by medical professionals to describe the effects of spinal osteoarthritis. This common age-related condition, which affects most people to some extent after age 60, is also known as degenerative joint disease of the spine.

How does the spine degenerate?

Over time, the supple discs that serve as cushions between vertebrae can dry out, lose height and break down. This can cause the space between adjacent vertebrae to grow narrower, allowing the bones to grind painfully together, and sometimes prompting the development of protective bony deposits (bone spurs). While a bone spur can provide stability to a damaged vertebra or facet joint, it can also potentially pinch a nearby spinal nerve root, leading to further pain, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling sensations in the arms and legs. As a result of this cascading degenerative process, the spine can also gradually stiffen and lose flexibility.

Most often, degenerative spine changes occur in the neck and lower back, both of which are high-stress areas. Because there is no cure for spinal osteoarthritis, treatment generally focuses on managing pain and maintaining mobility.

How can a degenerated spine be treated?

There are a number of ways to address spinal osteoarthritis symptoms. A physician can recommend an individualized treatment plan and pain management program, which may include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Weight management
  • Postural improvement
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Pain-relieving medications
  • Smoking cessation

If necessary to relieve very severe or persistent symptoms, a physician may also provide a referral to a rheumatologist, physical therapist, orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon.

If you’ve been advised to consult with an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon regarding your degenerative spine symptoms, contact USA Spine Care. Our team can provide a free MRI review* to determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive outpatient surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^

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