Understanding Spondylosis - Causes and Treatments

Understanding Spondylosis - Causes and Treatments

Spondylosis is another name for symptomatic, degenerative arthritic changes in the spine, commonly referred to as arthritis.

Spondylosis is another name for symptomatic, degenerative arthritic changes in the spine, commonly referred to as arthritis. As our bodies age, the intervertebral disc starts to lose fluid leading to collapse in disc height as well as other degenerative changes including ligaments becoming thickened and stiff and cartilage which surrounds the facet joint wearing away. In an attempt to reverse these changes, preserve stability and lessen stress our bodies increase surface area by creating bone spurs, also called osteophytes. The spurs can push on surrounding structures leading to symptoms. Some people develop spondylosis at an earlier age depending on certain risk factors including history of trauma, history of smoking, genetic predisposition, or occupations requiring hard labor.

What Causes Spondylosis?

The spine is made up of several vertebrates stacked on top of one another to allow your spine to move smoothly. Each segment has three major points of contact including two facet joints and an intervertebral disc. When facet joints and intervertebral discs degenerate or experience trauma, the protective cartilage wears away and new bone spurs form. These changes may lead to misalignment, stiffness, pain, or abnormal changes to motion.

What are the symptoms of Spondylosis?

The quality of symptoms of spondylosis depend on the severity and location of arthritic changes. In the cervical spine, or neck, generalized aching or stiffness which is typically worse in the morning or at night are common symptoms patient experience. Pain may also present with movement and radiate into the shoulder, head, or mid-back areas. Many describe this discomfort as muscle tightness or spasm. Cervical spondylosis may also produce headaches at the base of the skull which often radiate to the forehead.

If spondylosis is significant enough to cause pressure on surrounding neural structures patients may experience numbness, tingling, weakness or pain extending into the mid back and shoulder area and possibly into the arms. Thoracic spondylosis produces symptoms similar to those in the cervical spine. Patients often experience aching, stiffness, or pain in the mid back region described as a muscle spasm or tightness. If spondylosis causes pressure on the surrounding nerves there may be numbness, tingling or pain radiating into the chest, ribs, or abdominal areas.

For patients suffering with lumbar (low-back) spondylosis the symptoms may include generalized aching, pain, or stiffness in the low back, including muscle spasms or tightness. If there is pressure on the spinal nerves you may have numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in the legs.

What are the treatment options?

Most of the time, spondylosis can be treated with non-operative therapies including spine-specialized physical therapy, low-impact exercise, anti-inflammatory medications, and steroid injections. These conservative methods are among many therapies used to manage the symptoms caused by spondylosis. In certain cases, surgical intervention may be recommended depending on the patient’s severity of symptoms or the presence of progressive neurologic damage.