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Degenerative spine surgery is a surgical procedure performed to treat degenerative spinal conditions, a group of disorders that causes loss of normal structure and function of the spine. These disorders may be caused due to ageing, infection, tumors, or arthritis of the spine. Dr. Brandon Lawrence is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon who specializes in the treatment of degenerative and traumatic conditions of the spine including disc degeneration and herniation, spinal stenosis, spinal deformity, spinal trauma, spinal tumors, and spinal infections. His primary clinical interests are cervical and lumbar spine disorders, complex spinal deformity reconstructive surgery, minimally invasive surgery, and microscopic spine surgery. He provides diagnosis and individualized operative treatment plans and highly specialized care during and after surgery for his patients in Salt Lake City, Utah. Contact Dr. Lawrence’s team for an appointment today!

What is a Degenerative Spinal Condition?

A degenerative condition is a continuous deterioration of a tissue or an organ in your body over time.

Degenerative spinal conditions refer to a gradual loss of normal structure and/or function of the spine over time.

How do Degenerative Spinal Conditions Affect You?

A degenerated spine can lead to several medical problems. They include but are not limited to:

  • Slipped or herniated discs

The spinal discs collapse, dry out and lose the ability to cushion the joints. The condition normally occurs in the lower part of the spine

  • Stenosis

Stenosis involves the narrowing of your spinal canal. The condition leads to compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots

  • Sciatica

Sciatica is the pain affecting your back, hip, and outer side of the legs. It originates in your lower back and shoots down through your legs and feet. Compression of spinal nerve roots due to degenerating discs causes sciatica.

  • Myelopathy

This is caused by spinal cord compression. Weakness or numbness in the spinal cord is the typical symptom. Myelopathy reduces the spinal cord’s ability to send signals between the brain and body.

Radiculopathy (pinched nerve)

This occurs due to the compression of nerve roots caused by herniated discs. Reduces the root’s ability to send signals between the spinal cord and body.


Osteoarthritis is a result of the breakdown of the cartilage at the spinal joints. The condition causes pain and stiffness in your back.

Causes of Degenerative Spinal Conditions

Age-related wear and tear are the main cause of degenerative spinal conditions. Other reasons can be:

  • Mechanical (extreme bending or lifting)
  • Spinal infections
  • Traumatic spinal injury
  • Spinal tumors or arthritis
  • Overuse of the back (repeated strains, sprains)
  • Gender (men are more prone)
  • Nutritional or genetic factors
  • Smoking


The symptoms of degenerative spinal conditions vary widely in their presentation and depend on the location that is affected in the spine. However, the most generic symptom is sharp or chronic back and/or neck pain with movement or at rest.

Other possible symptoms can be:

  • Weakness or numbness in the spine
  • Nerve weakness or loss of sensation
  • Spinal deformity 
  • “Pins-and-needles” in your legs or arms
  • Trouble in breathing or swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss

Complications of Degenerative Spinal Conditions

The major complications include:

  • Spinal instability
  • Nerve entrapment
  • Muscle pain/spasms
  • Arm or leg weakness


Your doctor will usually diagnose the condition using any or all of the following tests:

  • X-ray (plain films)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Myelography/post-myelogram CT
  • Electromyography (EMG)
  • Discogram


Treatment of a degenerating spine depends on the severity and the type of degenerative condition. In most cases, the condition can be best treated non-operatively if there is no compression of spinal cord or nerve roots.

Non-operative treatments may include:

  • Physiotherapy and/or heat and cold therapy
  • Minimally invasive medication and/or steroids via epidural injection
  • Exercises to increase spine flexibility and muscle strength
  • Bracing coupled with education on proper body mechanics
  • Activity modifications with focus on weight control

Surgical Treatments

Surgery may be considered if the degenerative spinal condition:

  • Is more severe and not responding to non-operative measures
  • Has caused herniated discs or spinal stenosis or spinal cord compression

The mode of surgical procedure again depends on the type and severity of the condition. Your doctor will discuss with you on the following surgical procedures and consider the most appropriate one for you for the best outcome: 

  • Discectomy with fusion
  • Corpectomy with fusion
  • Spinal fusion
  • Laminectomy 
  • Foraminotomy

If you would like to have additional information on degenerative conditions affecting the spine or would like to learn more about degenerative spine surgery, please contact the office of Dr. Brandon Lawrence, board-certified spine surgeon serving the communities of Salt Lake City, Utah.