Degenerative disorders may develop as a result of the normal aging process and wear and tear. Just like a mechanical device the human body is subject to wear and tear from use. However, unlike machinery, the human body has the ability to heal or attempt to repair itself.
Arthritis affects approximately 80% of people over the age of 55 in the United States. Injury, a weakened immune system, and/or hereditary factors can trigger the onset of arthritis. There are hundreds of types of arthritis that share similar symptoms including inflammation, joint pain, and progressive deterioration of joint surfaces over time. The joints may lose normal contour, excessive amounts of fluid may build up inside the joint along with pieces of floating debris. Arthritis may affect the joints in the spine, which enable the body to bend and twist. Part of the problem may be the body's response to arthritis, which is to manufacture extra bone to stop joint movement. The extra bone is called a bone spur or bony overgrowth.
In medical terms, the extra bone is called an osteophyte (os-t-o-fight). Osteophytes may be found in areas affected by arthritis such as the disc or joint spaces where cartilage has deteriorated. The body's production of osteophytes is a futile attempt to stop the motion of the arthritic joint and deal with the degenerative process. It never completely works. The evidence of bony deposits can be found on an x-ray. A bone spur may cause nerve impingement at the neuroforamen (nu-row for-a-men). The neuroforamen are passageways through which the nerve roots exit the spinal canal. Sensory symptoms include pain, numbness, burning and pins and needles in the extremities below the affected spinal nerve root. Motor symptoms include muscle spasm, cramping, weakness, or loss of muscular control in a part of the body.
This article is an excerpt from the book Save Your Aching Back and Neck: A Patient’s Guide, edited by Dr. Stewart Eidelson.