Spondylosis Overview

What is it?

Spondylosis, also sometimes known as spinal arthritis or spinal osteoarthritis, is a condition characterized by degenerative changes in the structures that form your spinal column. Depending on the context in which it’s used, the term can refer to any one of these changes, or to all of them collectively.

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More About the Condition

Spondylosis Basics

Health professionals frequently use the term spondylosis imprecisely, or use it to describe different degenerative spinal processes. Some doctors use the term to describe arthritic changes inside the facet joints, which connect your spinal bones (vertebrae) to each other in back of your spinal canal and help give your spine its normal range of motion. Other doctors use the term to refer to water loss and other signs of degeneration in the spinal discs (intervertebral discs), which sit between neighboring vertebrae and help cushion and protect your spinal column.

Still other doctors use the term to describe the formation of restrictive bone growths, known as bone spurs, which can occur in the facet joints or near the edges of the intervertebral discs. Spondylosis-related spinal degeneration can also include thickening or weakening of the ligaments that connect the outside surfaces of your vertebrae and help prevent excessive spinal motion.

Spondylosis Causes

The number one cause of the degenerative changes associated with spondylosis is advancing age. As you grow older, normal wear and tear typically starts to gradually erode your spinal structures. In some people, this process is accelerated by factors that can include participation in various types of sports and working in an environment that requires regular and/or strenuous physical exertion. Other potential causes or contributing factors associated with spinal degeneration include herniated or ruptured intervertebral discs, excessive body weight, lack of regular exercise, previous spinal injuries, osteoporosis-related fractures, advanced forms of arthritis and previous spinal surgeries.

Spondylosis Symptoms

The symptoms of spondylosis can vary according to the specific degenerative processes under way, as well as the disorder’s location in your spinal column. Potential symptoms of degeneration in your lower back (lumbar spine) include localized pain that grows worse when you move your back or sit for long periods of time; alterations in your normal nerve sensations that can include tingling, numbness or muscle weakness; and pain and altered nerve sensations that extend into your legs. Potential symptoms of degeneration in your neck (cervical spine) include localized pain that grows worse with movement; pain and altered nerve sensations in your shoulder; and pain and altered nerve sensations that radiate from your neck or shoulder down your arm. Degeneration in your upper back (thoracic spine) typically produces pain when you bend your spine backward or forward.

Spondylosis Treatments

For most people with spondylosis, initial treatment includes short-term use of oral or injected pain-relieving medications, oral or injected anti-inflammatory medications, oral muscle-relaxing medications, and physical therapy or self-directed exercises that strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, increase spinal flexibility and restore as much range of motion as possible. Some people also benefit from temporary use of a neck or back brace, or need to quit smoking, lose weight or take a job that reduces their daily back stress. In addition to exercise, physical therapy techniques used to address the effects of spondylosis include massage, heat and cold treatments, traction and electrical stimulation of the nerves sending pain signals to your brain. Alternative treatment approaches include chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture. People with severe symptoms, progressive nerve problems or lack of response to other treatments may need some form of spinal surgery to adequately address their condition.

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