Sitting Down With Spondylosis: A Quick Breakdown
Reeling in the Years
As with all parts of the body, there’s a lot that happens to your spine as you age. Most may be familiar with osteoarthritis, or the degeneration of bones over time, but when this happens in the spinal column, it’s labelled “spondylosis.”  Something that can occur in the low, mid or upper back and neck, this term is not so much a specific condition—like say spinal stenosis—but a descriptor for the symptomology of what happens to this part of the body as a result of arthritis. 
What’s interesting about spondylosis is that many that display it won’t actually feel symptoms. For instance, between 27 and 37% of those that experience lumbar spondylosis—that is osteoarthritis in the lower back—won’t feel it in any way.  However, as the bones weaken as a result of this disorder, you get bulging discs, where the cartilage that cushions the bones of the back slips out of position. In addition, little growths called bone spurs can appear in the spine. Both of these lead to nerve compression, also known as “pinched nerve.” 
In this case, the nerves exiting the spinal column can be directly impacted or become more sensitive, which leads to acute pain. When it’s more extreme, however, new growth of nerve material cause a chronic pain condition. Depending on what part of the spine is affected, symptoms of spondylosis can be as follows: [1, 2]
- Cervical Spine (Neck): Headache, localized pain in the neck; weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms; loss of coordination; loss of bladder or bowel control.
- Thoracic Spine (Mid/Upper Back): Pain or stiffness in the upper or mid-back; numbness or tingling in the lower extremities; muscle weakness in the limbs; loss of coordination; inability to move comfortably.
- Lumbar Spine (Lower Back): When leading to degenerative disc disease—in which the discs between spine vertebrae—a patient will feel acute pain in the area, as well as radiating pain to the legs and groin.
In most cases, it may not be the spondylosis itself that is the problem, so much as the other conditions that accompany it.
Primarily, doctors diagnose this condition using medical imaging techniques, such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT Scans.  What do they look for? Thickening of facet (connecting) joints in the spine, narrowing of spaces between bones or the spinal canals, itself, as well as bone spur growth are all sought out. While all forms of imaging can be effective, it’s generally accepted that MRIs, though more expensive, can yield the most information.
Since spondylosis is a degenerative disease—meaning it continues to get worse over time—and there’s no direct way to reverse this process. Treatments, then, tend to focus on minimizing and mitigating the associated pain or other symptoms. In this sense, taking on spondylosis can involve a range of approaches: [1, 2]
- Medications: As with any pain or inflammation, a range of pharmaceutical drugs can be used to make symptoms bearable. These might include anti-inflammatories, pain relieving drugs, and muscle relaxants. Over-the-counter options may include things like Advil or Ibuprofen, whereas a doctor may prescribe Flexiril (a muscle relaxant), or opioid painkillers like Vicodin. Chronic cases may call for other drugs.
- Home Care: These may include periods of compression (both warm or iced), as well as the use of specialized pillows for cervical cases. It’s important to note that an emphasis must be placed on remaining physically active as much as possible; while you don’t want to do activities that might aggravate the back, you do want to keep moving to improve recovery time.
- Physical Therapy: In some cases, doctors may call for physical therapy for spondylosis patients. Trained therapists assist in pain management by working directly with sufferers to teach specific, helpful exercises.
- Minimally Invasive Surgery: When the spondylosis severely influences mobility and is progressively getting worse. Essentially, surgeries are recommended for associated conditions and are aimed at relieving pressure on the nerves. This may mean taking on spinal stenosis, slipped discs, or spinal bone spurs. These might include laminectomy, discectomy, or spinal fusion procedures.
As with many conditions of the back, you’ll need to consult closely with your doctor to assess your options.
The Power of Being Proactive
With spondylosis, as with all spine problems, the important thing is to be as engaged as you can be. The sooner you’re able to seek out medical attention, the more you’re able to follow along with treatment recommendations, the better off you’ll be. Don’t let pain or discomfort in the back stop you from living the life you deserve. You can stand up to spine problems.
If you’re experiencing pain or other issues in your back, the team at North American Spine is ready to help. Employing the latest in minimally-invasive surgical techniques, they’ve helped countless patients achieve positive health outcomes. Learn more about what they do by calling (855) 722-8830 today!
- “Spondylosis.” 2017. Com. Accessed October 9 2017. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/spondyl
- DeWitt, D. (2016). Spondylosis: What It Actually Means. [online] Spine-health. Available at: https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/spondylosis-what-it-actually-means [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].