The spine is one of the most important parts of our body as it makes our whole body be able to do different types of activities. Just like with our other body parts, the spine is also susceptible to medical conditions and disorders.
Degenerative spine disorders are disorders or conditions that occur due to degeneration of the spine. These disorders affect the normal functions of the spine as it loses its structure. Degeneration of the spine means that the changes happening in the spine are due to wear and tear because of age. Degenerative spine disorders are not due to infections or accidents.
In this article, we will discuss what the different degenerative spine disorders are, what the symptoms of these disorders are, how to diagnose them, and the different treatment options available. But before that, let’s talk about the spine first.
What is the Spine?
The spine is one of the main parts of the skeletal system. It’s composed of 33 individual bones, known as the vertebrae, that are stacked on top of each other forming the spinal column. The spine is composed of 4 sections:
- Cervical spine (neck)
- Thoracic spine (upper and mid-back),
- Lumbar spine (lower back)
- Sacral spine (pelvic)
The vertebrae is connected by intervertebral discs. These discs serve as shock absorbers and cushions. The spine also consists of the spinal canal which houses the spinal cord. The spinal cord is where the spinal nerves, as well as other tissues, which connects to the brain and the whole body, are located.
Degenerative spine disorders can affect all of the spine. Here are some of the structures of the spine that can get affected by degeneration:
- Spinal Discs
What are the Functions of the Spine?
The spine has a lot of functions that enable us to live our lives. Here are some of the most important functions of the spine:
- Supporting the body
- Enabling movement
- Protecting the nerves
- Providing blood supply
- Protecting the body’s major organs
Common Degenerative Spine Disorders
There are many types of degenerative spine disorders. Here are some of the most common of them:
1. Degenerative Disc Disease
Degeneration of the spinal discs is common especially among the elderly. Spinal discs are susceptible to wear and tear as time goes by making it brittle and cause problems in the spine. In some cases, those who have degenerative disc disease don’t always experience its symptoms.
Arthritis is the inflammation of the joint and one of the most common type of arthritis, called osteoarthritis, happens when the cartilage located in the joints wear down. Arthritis can cause pain and stiffness in the body.
3. Osteophytes (Bone Spurs)
Bone spurs are excess bones that grow due to conditions such as osteoarthritis. These extra bones may cause pain when they compress or pinch the spinal nerve roots or the spinal cord.
4. Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal. This often occurs due to degeneration of the spinal bones or the spinal discs. Spinal stenosis can cause compression in the nerves and the spinal cord resulting in pain or conditions like myelopathy.
Degenerative Spine Disorders can cause compression on the nerve roots resulting in radiculopathy. Radiculopathy is a condition where the ability of the nerve roots to send signal to the brain and the body. When this happens, a patient may feel weakness, pain, or numbness in the arms or the legs.
6. Nerve Compression
Degeneration of the spine can cause the spinal cord or the nerve roots to be pinched or compressed due to osteophytes, ligaments, as well as herniated discs.
Degenerative Spine Disorders: Symptoms
Degenerative Spine Disorders can have varying symptoms depending on the condition itself. With some people, there are no symptoms at all. The most common types of symptom associated with degenerative spine disorders is back pain and neck pain. However, there are other symptoms that can occur depending on the location of the condition.
Surgical treatment is not necessary in most degenerative spine conditions. A neurosurgeon will determine a patient’s need for surgical care depending on the symptoms they feel. Here are some of the symptoms you and your doctor should watch out for:
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Bowel or bladder problems
- Radiating pain
- Pain accompanied by fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic back and neck pain
- Difficulty breathing
Degenerative Spine Disorders: Diagnostic Procedures
Doctors will recommend a patient with degenerative spine disorder to undergo diagnostic procedures to determine the exact cause of the disorder. Evaluating the symptoms can help your doctor further understand the condition and come up with the appropriate treatment.
Here are some of the diagnostic tests your doctor may request:
2. CT Scan
5. Electromyography (EMG)
Degenerative Spine Disorders: Treatment and Care
Treatment for patients who have degenerative spine disorders may vary from one another. There are surgical procedures for degenerative spine disorders, however, before they are considered, doctors will opt for non-surgical treatments first.
Here are some of the non-surgical treatments for degenerative spine disorders:
a) Anti-Inflammatory Medication
b) Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
c) Pain Medication
e) Epidural Injections
f) Steroidal Injections
2. Weight Control
4. Physical Therapy
Surgical treatments are only considered when non-surgical treatments don’t show any progress and when the pain is so severe. In these cases, surgical procedures may help relieve pain and prevent further damage to the spine. Most times, surgery can effectively improve the quality of life of a patient with degenerative spine disease.
Here are some of the surgical procedures conducted for patients with degenerative spine disease:
4. Anterior Cervical Discectomy
5. Anterior Cervical Corpectomy
7. Spinal Fusion
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