Degenerative Disc Disease & Spinal Arthritis

What’s the Difference?

May is National Arthritis Month. In our blog post today, we discuss the difference between degenerative disc disease & spinal arthritis. These two spinal conditions create chronic neck or back pain that can make daily activities intolerable. And while they are easily confused because they have many of the same symptoms, they are separate conditions.

Degenerative Disc Disease & Spinal Arthritis


What is Spinal Arthritis?

Spinal arthritis, also called osteoarthritis of the spine, is a degeneration of the spine that worsens with age. It mostly affects the cartilage that lines the facet joints and the joints connecting the vertebrae. Over time, this cartilage wears down, and that’s when you begin to feel discomfort or pain from joint inflammation. Spinal osteoarthritis does not directly affect the spinal discs.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is deterioration of the spinal discs. DDD can happen as a result of an injury or as age wears down the discs. Depending on how severe degenerative disc disease is, it can lead to collapsed discs as well as bulging or herniated discs.  Arthritis of the spine is similar in that it is a degenerative condition. However, spinal arthritis is a wearing down of the connective structures of the spine, while degenerative disc disease involves damage to the discs.

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 80% of Americans will experience some type of back pain in their lifetime. Understanding these common spine conditions will help us know when it’s time to seek help from a spinal specialist.

Some of the symptoms of degenerative disc disease and arthritis of the spine overlap, which can be seen below.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

The most common symptom of degenerative disc disease is consistent pain around the degenerating disc that may occasionally flare-up into severe, potentially debilitating pain. Other conditions may include:

  • muscle tension or spasms due to spinal instability
  • hot, sharp or stabbing pain that may radiate out into the limbs
  • pressure or tingling in back and legs
  • bending or twisting makes the pain increase

Symptoms of Arthritis of the Spine

One of the key differences in symptoms between the two conditions is the crunching or crackling sound associated with osteoarthritis. Other symptoms include:

  • back pain that comes and goes
  • stiffness in the morning
  • a crunching sound when bones rub together
  • decreasing range of motion

Conservative Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease & Spinal Arthritis

The good news is that degenerative disc disease and spinal arthritis both have a wide range of treatment options. Conservative options include:

  • ice and heat
  • pain medication like acetaminophen
  • physical therapy
  • weight management
  • steroid injections

Although it may take several weeks before you see results from these treatments, many patients often get relief with these conservative options. If not, minimally invasive surgery may be necessary.

Minimally Invasive Surgical Techniques

While degenerative disc disease & spinal arthritis differ, the ultimate goal of surgery is relieving pressure on the nerves and stabilizing the spine.

Specific surgeries for degenerative spinal conditions include:

  • minimally invasive discectomy
  • cervical total disc replacement
  • minimally invasive laminectomy
  • minimally invasive fusion

Consult with a Spine Specialist

If chronic neck or back pain from degenerative disc disease & spinal arthritis interferes with your daily activities, it may be time to speak with a spine specialist. Don’t wait until the pain becomes intolerable–especially when the specialists at DISC of Louisiana can accurately diagnose and treat degenerative disc disease & spinal arthritis. Schedule an appointment with one of our board certified, minimally invasive spine specialists today.

This site is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this site and links to other sites, DISC of Louisiana provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this site, or through links to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use this information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider. DISC of Louisiana is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this site.