Degenerative Spinal Disease

What is degenerative spinal disease?

Degenerative spinal diseases are conditions that occur due to normal wear and tear on the spine over time. These conditions usually happen in older people, but younger people who have had traumatic injuries or who have put extra strain on their spines can also develop degenerative spinal disease.

Common degenerative spinal diseases include:

  • Herniated disc – This condition causes one of the discs between the spine to bulge out and press on a nerve.
  • Degenerative disc disease – With this condition, one or more of the discs in the spine starts to break down, causing pain.
  • Spinal stenosis – Spinal stenosis means the open spaces within the spinal bones start to shrink, compressing the nerves.
  • Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis – Spondylolysis is a fracture in one of the spinal bones. Spondylolisthesis is a condition that happens when that fractured bone starts to shift out of position.
  • Cervical spondylosis with myelopathy – With this condition, the spinal canal narrows over time and compresses the nerves that run through it.

Symptoms of degenerative spinal disease

These conditions can cause very similar symptoms, such as:

  • Numbness or tingling in one of your arms or legs
  • Pain in your back, neck, leg or buttocks
  • Stiffness in your back or neck
  • Limited mobility

In some cases, you may also notice problems with incontinence or sexual function if the nerves that control those areas are being compressed.

Who's at risk for degenerative spinal disease?

Sometimes, developing a degenerative spinal disease is part of the normal aging process, and there's not much you can do to prevent it. Other risk factors for degenerative spinal disease include:

  • Having a previous back or neck injury
  • Being overweight
  • Having bad posture
  • Working in a job that requires a lot of bending or lifting
  • Participating in high-impact sports

The best ways to prevent degenerative spinal disease are to maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet and stay physically active. If your job or your activities put you at risk, be sure to wear proper safety equipment and use correct form when lifting objects.

Diagnosis and testing for degenerative spinal disease

Most of the time, degenerative spinal disease can be diagnosed with an imaging test. That often means an X-ray, CT scan or MRI, but other imaging tests that use a small injection of dye or a radioactive material may also be needed to see which part of the spine is affected. Your doctor will also do a physical exam to check your back and neck.


Treatment for degenerative spinal disease can vary from person to person, based on your specific condition and your overall health. Physical therapy is usually a good first step, and your doctor may also recommend pain medicines. If that's not enough to relieve your symptoms, the surgeons at Main Line Health offer a wide range of surgical procedures for degenerative spine conditions. Many of these surgeries can be done as a minimally invasive procedure, which means a quicker and easier recovery for you.

Cervical Disc Replacement

The goal of cervical disc replacement surgery is to relieve neck pain and restore normal range of motion of the neck.


Epidural Corticosteroid Injections

Your doctor may recommend epidural steroid injections after other noninvasive treatment approaches have failed to relieve your pain.

Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Non-Surgical Orthopaedic Treatments

Some orthopaedic conditions are first treated with non-surgical procedures followed by surgery as the next step.

Orthopaedic Surgery

Orthopaedic Rehab

As one of the most extensive programs at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, our primary focus is to help patients build strength, mobility and endurance for a variety of orthopaedic conditions.

Physical Therapy

Each inpatient and outpatient physical therapy rehab is individually designed and administered by a licensed physical therapist who consistently guides you from that first visit all the way through recovery.

Spine Surgery

Our spine surgery specialists are academically trained in advanced techniques and perform a high volume of surgeries using the latest technologies.


Pain Management

Discover how Main Line Health experts serve Philadelphia by treating a wide range of conditions, including back, neck and oncology-related pain.


Pain in your spine can affect your whole range of movement and quality of life. Learn how Main Line Health specialists provide compassionate care for your spinal needs.

Senior Health (Geriatric Medicine)

Main Line Health experts provide specialized care so adults of all ages can maintain their independence and live life to the fullest.


Discover how Main Line Health neurosurgeons provide expert care, from routine to complex spinal and nervous system conditions for patients.