What Are the Effects of Degenerative Joint and Disc Disease?

Illustration 13

Left Image: Normal Disc & Vertebrae with Taut Ligaments

Right Image: Loss of Disc and/or Bone Height Causes Instability of Stabilizing Ligaments

Degenerative joint and disc disease is the most frequent health problem listed by Americans 60 years or older in a study of 100,000 people by Medical World News.

Degenerative joint disease results in pain, lack of strength and endurance causing those afflicted to lose quality of life, independence and possibly even require nursing home placement. Medications, physical therapy and surgery often fail to make any significant gains in the patient's activities of daily living.

Basically when vertebrae and discs become degenerated they lose height. This height loss causes a laxity of ligaments. Ligaments function as the primary stabilizers of the joints and they connect bones to bones. Tendons provide support to a much less degree. Tendons primarily function to connect muscles to bones to provide purposeful movement. When the vertebrae and disc lose height this produces an effective laxity of the ligaments (See Illustration). Since ligaments are the primary stabilizers of the joints and they are lax when height is lost, instability, lack of endurance, aching and pain result. The bones and disc literally shake around causing friction. The friction causes a further wearing down of discs, cartilage and later even bone surfaces themselves. Wolf's law states that bones respond to stress by making more bone. Therefore, arthritis spurring (spondylosis deformans) results as an attempt by the bone to stabilize the joint.


McDonagh Medical Center