Adjacent Level Degeneration

What is Adjacent Level Degeneration?
Adjacent level degeneration occurs when there is stress on the adjacent discs above or below a fusion from where the vertebrae(s) were previously fused together. Lack of mobility from a fusion can result in the adjacent levels in the spine having to compensate for a heavier workload. In time, this leads to accelerated wear and tear of the discs due to increased forces placed on them. Additional spinal disorders (herniated discs, disc bulges, and facet joint arthritis) can occur from adjacent level degeneration.

Causes
Adjacent level degeneration may develop from accident-related injuries, lack of exercise, smoking, and aging following a previous fusion.

Symptoms
• Pain near the previous fusion level
• Radiating pain/numbness/tingling in arms or legs

Treatments
Often pain can be managed with non-operative treatments including:
1. Physical therapy for core strength and stabilization
2. Acupuncture, chiropractic care, medication
3. Steroid injections for diagnostic purposes and therapeutic relief
*If pain persists despite non-operative treatments, another fusion may be necessary.

Minimally invasive surgery decreases the incidence of adjacent level degeneration by preserving the stabilizing musculature that supports the spine!
To learn more about why a fusion is needed, please see our editorial in spine universe.