Degenerative Joint Disease

Degenerative Joint

Degenerative joint disease is the gradual deterioration of the cartilage within your joints which can include the facet joints in the spinal column. Since these joints are involved in the body’s ability to bend and twist, they are subjected to a great deal of stress. With time and aging, constant use of your spine’s facet joints can lead to inflammation – and with it, pain and stiffness – that comes from the cartilage wearing away, leaving the facets to grind against each other without any protection.  

Causes

Degenerative joint disease of the spine is mainly caused by the natural aging process and the normal wearing down we experience as we get older. Over time, the protective cartilage exposes the joints to increased friction and leads to inflammation associated with degenerative joint disease. 

Additionally, this condition can be accelerated by lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, genetics, previous illnesses, and rigorous physical activity. Most people older than 50 probably have some form of spinal joint degradation that goes unnoticed. Symptoms usually arise when the inflammation becomes severe and the degenerative joint disease causes symptoms such as throbbing or aching pain, tingling, or numbness, joint stiffness, and reduced range of motions. 

Conservative Treatment

Fortunately, there are many conservative treatment options that doctors recommend for this disease, including: 

  • Medication: over the counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help manage pain and inflammation
  • Physical Therapy: prescribed physical exercises may help extend your range of movement and strengthen supporting muscles
  • Lifestyle Changes: limiting activities such as playing high impact sports or heavy lifting may help ease symptoms
  • Selective Nerve Block Injections: an injection of a numbing agent combined with a corticosteroid is commonly administered to help ease pain and inflammation around the injection site

If your symptoms from spinal degenerative joint disease arent solved by conservative treatment alone, it may be time to consider a surgical option. 

Symptoms

Degenerative joint disease is primarily caused by the natural aging process, though it can be accelerated by factors like obesity, smoking, overexertion, gender, illness, and genetic predisposition. It is not necessarily symptomatic and, in fact, most people older than 50 probably have some degree of mild spinal joint degeneration that they don’t even notice. Symptoms occur when inflammation becomes more severe and/or anatomical abnormalities, like bone spurs, press on spinal nerves. The issues associated with degenerative joint disease can include any of the following: 

  • Throbbing or aching at the site of degeneration
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Tingling or numbness when spinal nerves are compressed
  • An uncomfortable feeling of bone rubbing against bone called crepitus
  • Joint stiffness or spontaneous joint lockage

Diagnosis

A spinal degenerative joint disease diagnosis usually starts with your primary care physician, who can review your medical history, perform an examination, and may also discuss your treatment options. Sometimes, however, your physician may refer you to a specialist who can better evaluate and diagnose your condition, such as a neurologist or rheumatologist. 

There are several types of tests that may be used to help determine if you are suffering from degenerative joint disease of the spine, including an X-ray, a CT scan, an MRI, or blood testing which could rule out other causes of your symptoms. 

Surgery

While conservative treatment is usually effective at managing discomfort stemming from degenerative joint disease, surgery is sometimes recommended when no other treatment delivers lasting and sufficient results. However, even in this instance, it is important to understand that there are many different types of surgery available depending on the patient’s prognosis. 

Where open spine surgery in a traditional hospital setting used to be the only option available, today spine surgery can be minimally invasive in nature. At BEST Health System, we specialize in many minimally invasive spine procedures that are designed to address common degenerative spine conditions, including those that affect the vertebral joints. 

Unlike traditional open spine surgery, our minimally invasive spine surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. Our techniques limit the cutting of muscle tissue, which reduces damage to the area surrounding the spinal column compared to open spine surgery. This lessens the chances for post-surgical complications and results in a shorter recovery period. 

To learn more, contact BEST Health System

If you have experienced any of these symptoms or recieved a diagnosis and need treatment, BEST can help. Take the first step towards relief today.

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