What Is Spondylosis?
Spondylosis is a condition that involves the wear-and-tear of spinal discs and affects millions of people each year. This article will walk you through what spondylosis involves and what treatments are available for it.
Overview of spondylosis
Spondylosis is a term that broadly encompasses a variety of common conditions involving degeneration or arthritis in the spine. It can be used to describe the deterioration of the discs that cushion and protect the vertebrae of the spine. Between each vertebra of the spine, there is a disc made of cartilage that helps to absorb the shock of movement and allows the spine to move smoothly.
Over time, these spinal discs can begin to dehydrate or deteriorate with age. They may flatten, or the outer shell may crack, allowing the soft inner cartilage to bulge out, causing irritation and even arthritis in the spine where the cartilage is worn down.
Sometimes, the cartilage that lines the facet joints at the back of the spine can also degenerate. This allows the bones of the facet joints to rub together, which can even cause bone spurs to develop. Both the degeneration of spinal discs and the development of arthritis in the joints of the spine are considered spondylosis.
Spondylosis can develop in different parts of the spine:
- Cervical spondylosis: degeneration in the upper spine of the neck and upper back
- Thoracic spondylosis: degeneration in the middle of the spine
- Lumbar spondylosis: degeneration in the lower spine
Spondylosis is a very common condition, and many older adults will experience it in their lifetime. It tends to get worse with age, as the wear-and-tear continues to degenerate the spinal discs and surrounding bone. For some, spondylosis produces no noticeable symptoms, while others may experience substantial pain or difficulty moving around.
Causes of spondylosis
Spondylosis is often the result of age-related wear-and-tear on the spinal discs and facet joints. Stress from daily living starts to affect different parts of the spine, which then leads to degeneration in the spine. Repetitive stress from sports or other intense activities can also increase the risk of developing spondylosis.
A variety of conditions can contribute to the development of spondylosis. Often, changes in the spine’s position due to one condition will lead to further degeneration over time. These initial conditions can include
- Degenerative disc disease: the deterioration of spinal discs over time
- Spinal stenosis: the narrowing of the spinal canal where nerve bundles travel
- Facet joint syndrome: wearing away of the cartilage that protects the facet joints at the back of the spine
These conditions may pinch neighboring nerves or produce bone spurs, which can cause unnatural spine movements that further accelerate the wear-and-tear associated with spondylosis.
Symptoms of spondylosis
Spondylosis does not always produce symptoms. Many people will experience degenerative changes in their spine without noticing pain or other symptoms. Others, however, will experience more severe symptoms. These can include
- Back pain (can be chronic or occasional flare-ups)
- Stiffness in the spine
- Difficulty moving around
- Muscle weakness in the back, legs, or arms
- Muscle spasms in the back
- Numbness or tingling in the back, legs, or arms
If you are starting to notice these symptoms, seek medical attention to help you find the best treatments for your individual condition.
Treatments for spondylosis
Symptoms associated with spondylosis can often be managed with conservative treatment methods. These treatments can include
- Physical therapy exercises that stretch and strengthen the back
- Improved posture
- Avoiding activity that stresses the spine
- Anti-inflammatory pain relievers
- Steroid injections
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve pain and inflammation in the spine. Surgical procedures for spondylosis often involve removing the part of the disc, spinal bone, or bone spur that is compressing a nerve or causing irritation. The neighboring vertebrae are then often fused together to improve spinal stability and to restore normal functioning. These procedures are typically reserved for those whose spondylosis fails to respond to more conservative treatments.
Treating spondylosis at OAR
Spondylosis is a common condition that many of us can expect to experience as we grow older. If you’re experiencing symptoms of spondylosis, our team of orthopaedic specialists and surgeons are ready to meet with you to see how we can help you find relief.
Only a doctor can tell you if you have this ailment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used in lieu of a doctor’s opinion.