DEGENERATIVE SPINE

Common in the adult working population, degenerative spine conditions involve the gradual loss of structure and function of the spine, typically caused by the normal wear and tear of the bone and soft tissues in the spine.

People who put increased strain on their necks and backs can increase the rate at which this wear and tear occurs.

Though it shouldn’t be taken lightly, a degenerative spine is fairly common. Your spine is made up of a complex series of muscles, vertebrae, ligaments, and intervertebral discs that can deteriorate over time. The discs are particularly important because they act as shock absorbers for the spine. In addition to allowing for flexibility in your spine, they prevent the vertebra from grinding against one another.

With age, the constant tension and stress that our spines endure take a toll on our intervertebral discs. Age-related changes also make our discs drier and weaker, causing them to deteriorate and become less effective. This ultimately leads to degenerative spine disorders.

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Degenerative Spine Conditions

Pinched nerves

A pinched spinal nerve is a common condition that most people will experience on occasion as they grow older. When the symptoms of a pinched nerve don’t abate on their own over several days, they could be the byproduct of one of the aforementioned degenerative spine conditions. Alleviating the symptoms is contingent on identifying and addressing the cause of the nerve constriction.

Degenerative disc disease

A condition that describes the breakdown of intervertebral discs. As we grow older, the intervertebral discs dehydrate and the proteins that keep them healthy break down. As the discs deteriorate, they become less effective at supporting the vertebrae. This can cause the vertebrae to become slightly displaced and put pressure on the nerve roots that travel in between the vertebrae, or press on the spinal cord itself.

Herniated discs

A herniated disc refers to an intervertebral disc that has ruptured, allowing the inner gel-like disc material to seep into the spinal canal through a tear in the disc wall. This condition can be painful if the nerves that innervate the disc become irritated or if the extruded disc material irritates the spinal nerves.

Bulging discs

A bulging disc refers to an intervertebral disc that has swelled beyond its normal parameters between adjacent vertebral bodies. The enlarged disc remains structurally intact but, due to increased pressure, has expanded into the spinal column. A bulging disc is not inherently symptomatic, but when the disc wall comes in contact with the spinal cord or any nearby nerve infrastructure, painful symptoms can develop.

Degenerative scoliosis

While most people equate scoliosis with adolescence, degenerative scoliosis is a spine condition that can develop later in life. When scoliosis occurs, it causes a side-to-side curvature of the spine, which can result in a hunched posture and a change in gait, among other symptoms.

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a condition indicated by the presence of vertebral misalignment. In an otherwise healthy spine, the spinal column has a natural s-curve that evenly distributes weight along its length. With spondylolisthesis, one of the vertebral bodies in the spinal column slides out of its normal position.

Spinal osteoarthritis

Also referred to as degenerative spinal arthritis, this condition involves the breakdown of cartilage located on the spinal facet joints. When osteoarthritis occurs, cartilage wears away, allowing bone-on-bone contact to occur within the joint. This can cause inflammation, the formation of bone spurs and nerve irritation.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis describes the narrowing of the spinal canal. This isn’t necessarily problematic by itself, but when the canal space becomes constricted, the spinal cord and other nerve structures can be irritated. Common causes of spinal stenosis include the presence of herniated disc material, bone spurs and other tissue.

Bone spurs

Bone spurs are smooth protrusions of excess bone that frequently accompany arthritic deterioration. While these growths of bone are asymptomatic in and of themselves, the excess material can become problematic if it comes in contact with a nearby nerve. Bone spurs also often form in the aftermath of an injury.

Sciatica

Sciatica is a term that is frequently used as a catch-all to describe the symptoms that arise from the inflammation and irritation of the sciatic nerve. This nerve originates at the base of the spinal cord and extends downward through the lower body before ending near the feet. Most commonly, sciatica is associated with chronic lower back and leg pain.

Treatment of degenerative spine varies, depending on the severity of the condition. In most cases, rest, medication, and exercise is all that is required, but surgery may be recommended for more severe conditions. In this situation, stem cell therapy may be an option.