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Degenerative joint disease information

Degenerative joint disease describes the gradual breakdown of the cartilage that protects the facet joints within the spine. Because this condition often causes inflammation and swelling of the facet joints, it is commonly associated with arthritis of the spine.

Causes of degenerative joint disease

While there can be many contributing factors, the most common cause of degenerative joint disease is simply age. The spine naturally deteriorates and weakens with age, and components like the facet joints are not immune to the damage.

The purpose of the facet joints in the spine is to connect the vertebrae and allow them to hinge and bend for movement. To allow the spine to move comfortably, the facet joints are coated with thick layers of cartilage. This cartilage cushions the vertebrae and joints, allowing the vertebrae to hinge without rubbing against the joint or other vertebrae.

Over time, this cartilage can wear down from continual movement or weight gain, adding pressure on the vertebrae. Both of these factors contribute to high friction on the cartilage of the joints, which can cause the cartilage to slowly break down. Eventually, the cartilage may deteriorate completely and cause the vertebrae to rub against the joints without protection. This can result in inflamed and swollen facet joints — a common sign of degenerative joint disease.

In many cases, degenerative joint disease develops slowly and may not show symptoms. However, if the joint becomes inflamed or swollen and pinches a nearby nerve root, pain and symptoms can develop.

Symptoms of degenerative joint disease

The symptoms of degenerative joint disease are often a combination of pinched nerve symptoms and arthritis symptoms. Many people who experience symptoms of degenerative joint disease will experience one of more of the following:

  • Pain (local and/or radiating)
  • Limited range of motion in affected area of the spine
  • Muscle weakness
  • Limited mobility
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Burning sensation
  • Sciatica

These symptoms often develop slowly due to the degenerative nature of the condition. If you notice any of these symptoms developing and they don’t go away after several weeks, contact your doctor to schedule an appointment. Your doctor can diagnose the cause of your pain and begin a series of treatments for relief.

Diagnosing degenerative joint disease

It’s important to schedule an appointment with your physician if your pain and symptoms don’t ease after several weeks of at-home remedies, such as rest, anti-inflammatory medicine and hot or cold compresses.

Your initial doctor’s appointment will likely consist of three parts to obtain a proper diagnosis:

  • Questions about your symptoms and medical history
  • A physical exam
  • Imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan

The first part of the visit will be spent discussing your pain and symptoms so your doctor can begin to determine what is causing your discomfort. He or she may ask questions like:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Can you rate your level of discomfort?
  • Are there any movements or remedies that make your pain better or worse?
  • Does your family have a history of arthritis or spine conditions?
  • What is your normal level of activity throughout the day?

Once you’ve discussed your symptoms and medical history in detail, your physician will begin a physical evaluation. During this time, your doctor will press on certain areas of the spine and the nerve pathways to pinpoint the location of your pain. This helps to narrow down the area of the spine where the pinched nerve is located so you can have an imaging test done in that specific area. Your doctor can then examine your MRI or CT scan to diagnose exactly what is causing your pain.

If you’re diagnosed with degenerative joint disease, your doctor will recommend a series of conservative treatments to help with pain relief.

Conservative treatments for degenerative joint disease

Conservative treatments are used to relieve pressure on the pinched nerve and degenerative joint in the spine to reduce pain and symptoms. Common treatments methods include:

  • Pain medication
  • Limited rest
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Massage therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Weight loss
  • Stretches and yoga

Many patients will find relief after several months of treatment. However, some patients may still suffer and require spine surgery to help reduce the pain of degenerative joint disease.

Spine surgery for degenerative joint disease

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive spine surgery to treat the symptoms of degenerative joint disease.

Our procedure, called a facet thermal ablation, is an alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery. Performed most often in conjunction with a decompression as the primary procedure to treat arthritis, this procedure is used to relieve painful nerves in the facet joint, utilizing a laser.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery. Let us help you take your life back from the chronic pain of degenerative joint disease and other spine conditions.