Degenerative joint disease (DJD) is marked by the gradual deterioration of the articular cartilage within joints. In the spine, the joints that connect adjacent vertebrae and allow them to bend and extend freely are called facet joints. These joints are especially vulnerable to deterioration because they are involved in many movements while bearing the body’s weight. Once the cartilage wears away, bare facet articular surfaces grind against each other, causing inflammation, pain and stiffness, and stimulating the formation of bone spurs, or osteophytes. Bone spurs are extra growths of bone that pose the risk of compressing nearby spinal nerves.
Degenerative joint disease of the spine, also called facet disease or spinal osteoarthritis, is primarily caused by the natural aging process, though it can be accelerated by factors like obesity, smoking, overexertion, gender, illness and genetic predisposition. It is not necessarily a symptomatic condition and, in fact, most people older than 50 probably have some degree of mild spinal joint degeneration that they don’t even notice. Symptoms occur when inflammation becomes more severe and/or anatomical abnormalities, like bone spurs, press on spinal nerves.