Spondylosis – An Overview

What is Spondylosis

Spondylosis is a general medical term that is used to describe various forms of spinal degeneration that accompany the natural aging process. Physicians may use the term more specifically to describe the presence of spinal osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease. If you a diagnosed with spondylosis, ask your doctor about a specific type of spondylosis. This is so you can begin understanding what may have caused your condition and the treatment options available to you. 

Spondylosis Causes and Risk Factors

In most cases, spondylosis is caused by the cumulative effects of ongoing wear and tear on the spine. Spondylosis occurs when the soft tissues in the spinal anatomy deteriorate over time. For instance, the spinal discs, which are normally saturated with water, can become dehydrated and lose their effectiveness as cushions between the vertebrae. 

The cartilage in the facet joint can gradually wear away, resulting in bone-on-bone contact between the joints. This friction can cause inflammation and trigger the body’s natural protective responses, including the production of smooth bony deposits in the affected areas. Additionally, the muscles that support the spine can weaken, while ligaments and tendons can thicken, tighten, and stiffen. 

Spondylosis refers specifically to spinal osteoarthritis, which is a common result of the natural aging process. Osteoarthritis is an age-related condition that is characterized by the deterioration of the cartilage that covers the joints in the body, including the spine’s facet joints. 

These joints, which are located between the individual vertebrae, serve an important function in providing the spine with an essential range of motion, allowing it to bend, twist, and flex. The cartilage, a smooth, rubbery tissue that covers the ends of the bones in the joints, reduces friction and helps the bones to glide smoothly over each other. When the cartilage breaks down, painful joint damage can occur.

Some people experience more degenerative changes related to spondylosis than others, but most have at least some signs of spinal deterioration that are readily apparent in an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan by the age of 40. These findings might include bulging or herniated discs, as well as bone spur formations in the vertebrae affected by degeneration. 

Common Risk Factor

There are a number of risk factors that can increase your likelihood to develop spondylosis, which include:

  • Obesity
  • Genetic predisposition
  • History of traumatic injuries
  • Participation in high-impact sports

Types of Spondylosis

Spondylosis is classified by its regional location on the spine. The spine consists of 33 vertebrae, 24 of which individually stack to create the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions, while nine fused vertebrae make up the sacrum and coccyx. 

  • Cervical spondylosis
  • Thoracic spondylosis
  • Lumbar spondylosis
  • Multilevel spondylosis

Common Spondylosis Symptoms

Spondylosis symptoms can range in severity depending on the damage, location, and presence of other spinal conditions. You may have spondylosis and not experience any symptoms. In fact, this condition can go undetected. Unless the facet joints become painfully stiff, or the spinal cord or a nerve root is irritated or compressed by a bone spur or displaced disc material. 

The most common spondylosis symptoms include:

  • Localized pain in the affected area of the neck or back
  • Numbness or loss of sensation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Traveling pain, numbness, and tingling

Spondylosis symptoms due to spinal osteoarthritis include:

  • Facet joint warmth and stiffness
  • Localized aching in the neck or back
  • Reduced range of motion in the spine

Nonsurgical Spondylosis Treatment Options

Many patients are able to find sufficient relief from their spondylosis symptoms by using one or more conservative treatments. Rather than addressing the underlying cause of the symptoms, conservative spondylosis treatments help to manage discomfort. 

Common conservative spondylosis treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Facet joint injections
  • Epidural steroid injections

Since your spondylosis symptoms are causing you discomfort and you probably would prefer to rest, engaging in physical activity and exercising might seem a bit counterintuitive. However, a physical therapist can recommend a course of targeted stretches and exercises, which can be very beneficial in enhancing the strength and flexibility of the spine and its supporting muscles. This, in turn, can facilitate a greater range of motion and healing. 

You may also find relief through alternative treatments like yoga and acupuncture. Of course, one or two days of taking it easy are generally acceptable if pain prohibits regular activity, but you should keep in mind that remaining inactive for too long can actually be harmful, possibly resulting in decreased circulation, joint stiffening, and blood clots. 

Surgical Spondylosis Treatments

If spondylosis symptoms are debilitating or persist after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, surgery will become an option. However, patients who are considering surgical intervention should be aware that a highly invasive open spine procedure is not the only avenue to relief. 

Some patients are candidates for the advanced minimally invasive spine surgery performed by the surgeons at BEST Health System. Our skilled surgeons perform these procedures on an outpatient basis, so most of our patients are able to go home within hours of their surgery. 

BEST Health System Can Help

If you want to learn more about BEST Health System and the procedures we offer, contact our team today. We ensure all patients receive the most effective, least invasive treatment option. The BEST is yet to come.