What is Degenerative Joint Disease?
Degenerative joint disease, or osteroarthritis, is the most common joint disorder
and often affects the joints of the spinal column. The condition results from the normal process of aging and wear on joints. An injury or disease may also lead to degenerative joint disease in the affected area later in life. Certain occupations that involve excessive kneeling or squatting or exposure to vibrations may predispose a person to degenerative joint disease. As we explain to our patients from throughout the northern New Jersey region and beyond at New Jersey Spine Specialists in Summit, the spinal column is especially prone to degenerative joint disease because its joints allow for motion in many planes and are less constrained than other joints such as knees and elbows. These stresses can be exacerbated by excessive weight, lack of exercise, smoking and a poor diet.
The degenerative process typically begins in middle age with the breakdown of cartilage, the rubbery tissue that serves as a cushion between bones and around joints. In the spine it is the disc material that tends to break down leading to less of a cushion between the vertebrae. The loss of cartilage and disc puts more stress on the facet joints in the back of the spine, which leads to bones rubbing against each other. This can result in symptoms of degenerative joint disease including pain, stiffness, swelling and reduced motion of the joint. Concurrently ligaments and muscles around the joint may weaken and loose flexibility, and bone spurs may form around the joint. The degenerative process that occurs in the spine with aging is referred to as spondylosis
When Should I Seek Help for Degenerative Joint Disease?
Everyone eventually experiences degenerative joint disease of the spine and in most cases our bodies adapt and there are no symptoms. Unfortunately, some people develop pain, stiffness and restricted motion as a result of degenerative joint disease. Degenerative joint disease of the spine can also lead to other spinal disorders such as spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis and disc herniations. “Morning stiffness” experienced upon waking and that improves with mild activity is a common symptom of pain resulting from degenerative joint disease.
Though it can’t be cured, degenerative joint disease can be controlled through physical therapy, medications, and in some cases surgery for patients who don’t respond to conservative treatments. When surgery is called for, advanced procedures including some minimally invasive spine surgery techniques can provide easier recovery and improved outcomes.