Spinal degenerative disease refers to any disease of the spinal column that results from the aging process and wear and tear that occurs to the bone and soft tissues of the spine. People who put increased strain on their necks and backs can increase the rate at which this wear and tear occurs.
The term degenerative spine disease does not refer to any one condition of the spine; it is a general term that encompasses many types of disorders that can occur simultaneously in the same patient.
Types of Spinal Degenerative Disease
A herniated disc is a protrusion of a disc that occurs between each vertebral bone of the spine. It can happen suddenly with a trauma, but more commonly occurs over years. The most common sites are lumbar herniated discs (low back) and cervical herniated discs (neck). Thoracic herniated discs (mid-back) are much less common.
Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, in which the spinal cord sits, from the buildup of tissue around the spine. It can start to cause pain by compressing the nerves and spinal cord. Stenosis occurs most commonly as lumbar stenosis and cervical stenosis.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Normally, the spine and all its ligaments and muscular support are stable, only moving in certain ways. However, with severe degenerative disc disease, the normal stability of a spine can become lax and lead to abnormal weakness in certain areas. Instability can both lead to pain as well as injury to the spinal cord or spinal nerves, both of which can cause neurological symptoms. Instability can also occur as the result of a trauma, which tears supportive soft tissues or breaks bones of the spine.
- Lower back pain that is generally made worse with sitting
- Back pain intensified by bending, lifting and twisting
- Walking and running may feel better than prolonged sitting or standing
- Desire to change positions frequently so alleviate pain
Treatment for degenerative spine disease varies considerably depending on the specifics of each case. Some patient’s benefit from conservative therapy with rest and physical therapy and some cases call for spine surgery. The faculty of the Spine Institute will prescribe a path of treatment that is unique to each patient and their particular condition.
By Dr. Craig Kuhlmeier