What Causes Degenerative Changes in the Spine?

Doctor Treating Back Issues

Degenerative changes in the spine can result in a variety of medical conditions and yield many symptoms, such as limited motion, spinal deformity, pain, and nerve issues. Treatment for degenerative spinal conditions varies depending on the type, location, and severity. In New Jersey, Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics specializes in treating patients who are experiencing any type of head, brain, neck, back, or extremity issues. Here, CNSO explores the common causes of degenerative changes in the spine.

Patient Age

The most common degenerative change in the spine is caused by aging and the second most common is injury. The body goes through many changes as time passes, and the spine is no exception. Just like skin, as patients age, the spinal discs which exist between the spinal bones, dry out and become thinner over time. When this happens, the spinal discs are no longer able to cushion the spine and absorb shock as effectively.

Arthritis of the spine, called spondylosis, causes, spinal stiffness and a loss of flexibility. This degeneration of the spine begins long before the symptoms are present. Because spondylosis does not occur uniformly along the spine, it can cause a number of different spinal diagnoses. Additional factors that speed up the progression of a degenerative spinal disease include smoking, menopause, and traumatic injury.

Back and Neck Trauma

Any back or neck injury can unleash the cascade of spinal degeneration at the location of the injury. The consequences may lead to a host of symptoms immediately or over the course of time. A forceful impact to the spine can disrupt the alignment of the spinal column, causing spondylolisthesis. Significant force can result in a fracture of one or more vertebral bones. An injury to the spinal discs can result in tears or cracks in its outer wall called a herniated disc. The conditions associated with these consequences initiate and accelerate degenerative changes of the spine. As the effects of the injury present themselves, a patient generally experiences severe pain, weakness, loss of flexability and range of motion, plus a potential loss of function and lower quality of life.


Carrying extra body weight can negatively impact a patient in many ways, including causing stress related degenerative changes in the spine. The more a patient weighs, the greater their risk of degenerative spine and disc changes. Obesity contributes to the development of osteoarthritis. Known as the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down. When arthritic changes occur in the spine, it is referred to as spondylosis. This degenerative disease typically worsens over time and may result in acute pain that becomes chronic in nature. But a patient does less then progression of spondylosis by losing weight plus strengthening exercises.


A patient’s family history may play a part in their propensity to develop early degenerative changes of their spine. Arthritic changes can be seen as early as in the third decade of life. Not only can genetics play a part in the likelihood to develop degenerative changes, but it also may impact pain tolerance. Some patients have a higher pain threshold and thus may not notice symptoms of degenerative changes as early as someone with a lower tolerance for pain. Some painful sequela of degenerative changes cannot be ignored without risk of permanent damage to the spinal nerves or spinal cord itself.

Treating Spinal Conditions Resulting from Degenerative Changes

Several factors may contribute to degenerative changes in the spine and a variety of treatment options available. While each circumstance is unique, many patients who experience these changes in the lumbar, thoracic, or cervical spine will not require surgery. In fact, at CNSO, only 10% require a surgical correction. Any spinal changes can lead to a number of conditions that require expert medical attention, such as:

No matter the case, the team of board-certified neurosurgeons, spine surgeons, and pain management doctors who are non-surgical medical professionals at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics can treat any condition that arises from degenerative spinal changes. 

The CNSO team specializes in the treatment and care of neck and back patients throughout New Jersey. There is no need to suffer with undiagnosed or untreated pain because it affects the overall quality of life. To learn more about the available treatment options for spinal and other conditions, please contact CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics