Degenerative Conditions That Fuel Back Pain

Degenerative changes of the spine cause gradual loss of the normal structure and function, often resulting in pain, stiffness, and limited mobility. While an injury can cause deterioration of the spine, age is the most common factor. 

By age 40, most people have some degenerative changes to the spine. Not everyone with these changes will experience symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they can significantly interfere with your daily activities.

At the Spine Institute of Southeast Texas, board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Jones II understands the impact back pain from degenerative conditions has on a person’s quality of life. Dr. Jones treats a broad range of musculoskeletal conditions, specializing in minimally invasive surgery to get to the root of your pain and restore function.

Anyone with ongoing back pain should seek a professional evaluation and diagnosis. Dr. Jones uses the latest diagnostic approaches and provides comprehensive care to patients with spine conditions. If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, you could have a degenerative condition affecting your spine.

Anatomy of the spine

To understand how degenerative spine conditions contribute to chronic back pain, it helps to understand the spine’s basic anatomy. The spine is composed of individual bones called vertebrae. They make up the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (mid-back), the lumbar spine (lower back). The sacrum and coccyx (tailbone) are the remaining spinal bones.

Discs sit between each pair of vertebrae to keep the bones from rubbing against each other. These intervertebral discs act as cushions and shock absorbers. Each disc has a tough, fibrous outer ring and a jelly-like inner core.    

Segments of bone provide attachment points for ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Together the vertebral body and surrounding structure make up the spinal column. A bundle of nerves called the spinal cord runs through a hollow space called the spinal canal.

Degenerative changes can affect any part of the spine. Changes to the thoracic and lumbar spine commonly cause back pain and stiffness, while changes to the cervical spine fuel neck pain. 

Now let’s discuss some of the most common degenerative conditions that fuel back pain: herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and spinal stenosis.   

Herniated discs

Also called a bulging disc, a herniated disc occurs when the jelly-like nucleus of the intervertebral disc leaks out into the spinal canal through a tear in the fibrous outer shell called the annulus. 

The spinal canal has a limited amount of space. When a displaced disc bulges into the spinal canal, nerve roots don’t have enough space. Symptoms occur when the bulging disc compresses or irritates the nerve roots. The lower back and neck are most commonly affected, and neck and back pain are typical.

Sciatica frequently results from a herniated disc in the lower back. The sciatic nerve branches from the lower back and runs through each side of the buttocks and down the legs. Sciatic nerve pain causes pain, tingling, and numbness that radiates down one or both legs.

Degenerative disc disease

The discs between your vertebrae change with age. In some cases, they lose moisture and become dry, or they crack, causing them to lose their ability to provide cushion between the bones of your spine. 

Degenerative disc disease causes a wide range of symptoms. It’s typical to experience:

If the compromised discs are in your neck, you may have neck pain as well as pain, tingling, or numbness in your arms.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis occurs when narrowing of the spinal canal causes compression of the nerve roots. This leads to pain, cramping, weakness, and abnormal sensations such as numbness and tingling. These symptoms vary depending on what part of the spine the narrowing takes place. The neck and lower back are most often affected. 

Pain may be severe enough to limit regular daily activities such as reaching for something from a shelf or bending to pick something up. Sitting down or leaning over usually relieves symptoms.

Age-related degenerative changes to the spine are the most common cause of spinal stenosis. People who are age 50 and over are most at risk.

Getting relief from chronic neck and back pain

While there’s no way to completely correct degenerative disc disease, surgery to remove the damaged disc and relieve pressure on the nerves can resolve pain and help you feel and function better. 

To have your back or neck pain evaluated, call us at The Spine Institute of Southeast Texas to schedule a visit with Dr. JonesWe have offices in Pearland, Houston, and Lake Jackson, Texas. Phone the nearest office, or book your appointment here on the website.

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