Scoliosis Research Society

The Aging Spine

Osteoarthritis and Other Degenerative Conditions of the Spine

Degenerative Discs and Facet Joints

Degeneration of the discs and the small joints of the spine (facet joints) is generally a normal part of the aging process.

Symptoms and diagnosis
Although evident on X-ray, degeneration may not cause any symptoms. However, in some individuals, it can be associated with significant back and/or leg pain. In patients with advanced arthritis/degeneration, X-rays show marked narrowing of the discs as well as arthritic changes in the facet joints.

Initial treatment is generally focused on improving muscle support of the back with exercises, the use of anti-inflammatory medications, and braces. If the initial pain is severe, a short period of bed rest may be necessary to control the acute pain, with gradual return of activities as soon as possible. Severe, progressive symptoms associated with degenerative changes may require surgical treatment to alleviate the pain.