As we age, the water and protein content of the cartilage of the body changes. This change results in weaker, more fragile and thin cartilage. Because both the discs and the joints that stack the vertebrae (facet joints) are partly composed of cartilage, these areas are subject to wear and tear over time (degenerative changes). The gradual deterioration of the disc between the vertebrae is referred to as degenerative disc disease. Wear of the facet cartilage and the bony changes of the adjacent joint is referred to as degenerative facet joint disease or osteoarthritis of the spine.
Degeneration of the disc is medically referred to as spondylosis. Spondylosis can be noted on X-ray tests or MRI scanning of the spine as a narrowing of the normal "disc space" between the adjacent vertebrae.
Degeneration of the disc tissue makes the disc more susceptible to herniation. Degeneration of the disc can cause local pain in the affected area. Any level of the spine can be affected by disc degeneration. When disc degeneration affects the spine of the neck, it is referred to as cervical disc disease. When the mid-back is affected, the condition is referred to as thoracic disc disease. Disc degeneration that affects the lumbar spine is referred to as lumbago. Lumbago causes pain localized to the low back and is common in older people. Degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) of the facet joints is also a cause of localized lumbar pain that can be detected with plain X-ray testing. The pain from degenerative disc or joint disease of the spine is usually treated conservatively with intermittent heat, rest, rehabilitative exercises, and medications to relieve pain, muscle spasm, and inflammation.
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