Degenerative Conditions That Fuel Back Pain

Feb 15, 2023

Degenerative Conditions That Fuel Back Pain

Degenerative changes can affect any part of the spine, leading to varying degrees of pain and disability that may eventually affect your ability to accomplish your daily routine.

The team at Coastal Spine, with offices in Mount Laurel, Sewell, Galloway, Toms River, Vineland, and West Orange, New Jersey, specializes in minimally invasive solutions for neck, back, and joint pain that relieve your discomfort and improve your overall quality of life.

Read what these orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, physical medicine specialists, and rehabilitation doctors say about degenerative changes in the spine and the treatments that help.

What causes degenerative changes in the spine?

Osteoarthritis is the underlying driver of degenerative changes in the spine, which can wear away the cartilage in the tiny facet joints running the length of the spine. These small hinge-type joints connect the vertebral bodies at the posterior (back) portion of the spine.

Intervertebral discs, which act as padding between the vertically stacked vertebrae in the spine, are also vulnerable to degenerative changes.

Over time, these discs may dry, thin, and crack. This deterioration reduces the cushioning effects of the discs, often causing pain and stiffness as the vertebrae rub against one another.

Degenerative changes can also fuel other painful back conditions, such as spinal stenosis related to bone spur formation, slipped discs, and neuropathic (nerve) pain related to compressed or crowded nerve roots. 

Osteoarthritis is usually related to wear-and-tear associated with aging. Repetitive motion injuries suffered during sports and work activities can also cause osteoarthritis. Injuries from a fall, car accident, or other trauma also increase the risk of osteoarthritis.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the spine?

Some people don’t develop any symptoms of osteoarthritis. However, most people experience varying degrees of stiffness and pain that most often affect the lumbar spine (lower back) and cervical spine (neck). 

Your symptoms may begin with mild, achy stiffness that’s worse in the morning or after a period of inactivity. The pain may worsen with sitting or standing and improve with lying down.

Over time, however, the discomfort can become constant and may include other symptoms, such as increased stiffness and limited range of motion. 

If nerves are involved, you may also experience muscle weakness or sharp, shooting pain in the buttocks, legs, shoulders, or arms. Worn cartilage or discs may also cause a grating sensation in the spine with movement.

How are degenerative changes in the spine treated?

Your treatment at Coastal Spine is customized to fit your needs. Based on the results of your initial evaluation, which includes a physical exam, discussion of your symptoms, and imaging studies to confirm the diagnosis of osteoarthritis, your strategy may include:

  • Oral medications to decrease inflammation and pain
  • Activity modification
  • Injection-based therapies such as epidural steroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Medication for chronic pain (Cymbalta®)
  • Occupational therapy
  • Joint-friendly lifestyle changes, such as weight loss

If conservative therapies don’t control your symptoms, your Coastal Spine team may recommend surgery to reduce pain and improve mobility.

Schedule an evaluation at Coastal Spine today. Call the office nearest you.