My doctor says I have degenerative changes in my spine. Does this mean I have arthritis?

Answers from April Chang-Miller, M.D.

Yes. The phrase "degenerative changes" in the spine refers to osteoarthritis of the spine. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Doctors may also refer to it as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis in the spine most commonly occurs in the neck and lower back.

With age, the soft disks that act as cushions between the spine's vertebrae dry out and shrink. This narrows the space between vertebrae, and bone spurs may develop. Gradually, your spine stiffens and loses flexibility. In some cases, bone spurs on the spine can pinch a nerve root — causing pain, weakness or numbness.

If you have osteoarthritis, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment and pain management plan, which may include exercise, medications and measures to protect your joints. Your doctor may also refer you to a rheumatologist, physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon.

Mar. 05, 2014