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

Answer From April Chang-Miller, M.D.

Yes. The term "degenerative changes" in the spine refers to osteoarthritis of the spine. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Healthcare professionals also may refer to it as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease.

Osteoarthritis in the spine most commonly happens in the neck and lower back. With age, the soft disks that act as cushions between the bones in the spine, called 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 healthcare professional will work with you to develop a treatment and pain management plan. This may include exercise, medicines and measures to protect your joints. You also may be referred to a rheumatologist, a physical therapist or an orthopedic surgeon.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health. Click here for an email preview.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Jan. 23, 2024 See more Expert Answers