Over and over again, patients ask me, "What is spinal degenerative disease?"
Well, literally after being asked to write on the topic for all to read up on, I thought I would also post my answer here.
Degenerative spinal disease is a general term for wear and tear in the structures that make up the spine. This can occur in the cervical, thoracic or lumbar regions. Just because someone has degenerative changes on x-ray doesn't mean they have pain, although does indicate a long term dysfunction through the joints. If note painful, this often results in symptoms of stiffness and less flexibility through the joints.
Although there is a common trend that the older we get, the more degeneration is present; there may be other factors at play which may speed up this degenerative change.
Several studies (1-6) suggest that a reduction in the normal motion of a joint known as hypomobility (a joint that isn't moving enough) results in time-dependent degenerative changes. Other studies suggest that degenerative joint changes may be due to traumas to the joint surface (7,8). These may be large traumas such as a heavy fall or accident, or multiple smaller traumas such as repetitive strain injuries. Often these injuries are only symptomatic for a few days after or not at all. Although an accumulation of these injuries may result in long term compensation patterns resulting in degenerative changes.
As Chiropractors, we are interested in the health of the spine. We therefore aim to have the spine functioning at its best. There are some clinical trials to suggest that when this is the case, there is a decreased risk of degenerative change (see references below). As the CAA says, A healthy spine, leads to a healthier life.
1. Cramer et al., Degenerative changes following spinal fixation in a small animal model. J Manip Physiol Ther 2004 (Mar); 27(3): 141-154
2. Kirkaldy-Willis WH. Managing Low Back Pain. 2nd ed. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1978.
3. Evans EB, Eggers GWN, Butler JK, and Blumel J. Experimental immobilization and remobilization of rat knee joints. J Bone and Joint Surg 1960; 42A: 737.
4.Hall MC. Cartilage changes after experimental immobilization of the knee joint of the young rat. J Bone and Joint Surg 1963; 45A: 36.
5. Troyer H. The effect of short term immobilization on the rabbit knee joint cartilage: A histochemical study. Clin Orthop 1975; 107: 249.
6. Mooney V, and Ferguson A. The influence of immobilization and motion on the formation of fibrocartilage in the repair granuloma after joint resection in the rabbit. J Bone and Joint Surg 1966; 48A: 1145
7.Gelber et al., Joint injury in young adults and risk for subsequent knee and hip osteoarthritis. Ann Int Medicine 2000 (Sep5); 133 (5): 321-328
8. Roos et al., Osteoarthritis after meniscectomy; prevalence of radiographic changes after twenty one years compared with matched controls. Arthritis Rheum 1998; 41 (4) Apr: 687-93