Degenerative spinal disease involves a loss of normal structure and function in the spine. Degenerative means that the cause of these changes is age-related wear and tear. The changes are not due to trauma, infection, or some other cause. Degenerative spinal changes can affect almost every structure of the spine. For example:
- Discs: Intervertebral discs usually change with age. They lose some of their ability to cushion the joints, and their fibrous outer portions may crack, allowing some of the jelly-like core to protrude. This condition is called a herniated disc. They may also slightly collapse and dry out, a condition called degenerative disc disease.
- Bones and cartilage: As cartilage at the joints wears down, the vertebrae or the bony processes at the back of the vertebral arch may rub against one another. This stimulates the growth of bone spurs (extra bone) that may restrict the joints’ range of motion, may cause stiffness and pain, and may compress the nerve roots and spinal cord.
- Ligaments: Ligaments may thicken, causing stiffness and pain or compressing nerve roots or the spinal cord.