Spondylosis is a degenerative condition in which discs between the vertebrae begin to break down, erode, or collapse, resulting in bone rubbing against bone. This can cause excessive wear and tear on adjacent spinal structures, leading to the development of bony spurs (osteophytes). As the condition progresses, osteophytes can exert pressure on the spinal cord, compress spinal nerves and restrict joint movement.
Advanced spondylosis can also cause thickening of the spinal ligaments, contributing to nerve compression and pain. Spondylosis is a debilitating condition that can affect any region of the spine, although it most commonly occurs in the neck (cervical) or lower back (lumbar).
Spondylosis is a degenerative condition affecting the bones and joints of the spine. The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be a result of the aging process. Joints, ligaments, and intervertebral discs “wear down” and undergo changes that disrupt normal spinal structure and function.
Bone spurs that develop in the spine or adjacent structures are called osteophytes. It may put pressure on nerve roots and the neural foraminae, the “tunnels” through which nerve structures pass. In some cases, spondylosis may cause paresthesia (unusual numbness or sensations) orradiculopathy (pain associated with a “pinched nerve”).
The terms spondylosis, osteoarthritis, and degenerative joint disease are often used interchangeably, but these are different conditions that may or may not occur together.
Symptoms of spondylosis will vary, depending on the area of the spine affected. Pain and stiffness are common. Alterations in spinal alignment may cause nerve compression and deformity. Over time, widespread degenerative changes lead to spinal instability. Symptoms commonly associated with spondylosis include:
- Back pain/stiffness, especially upon awakening
- Difficulty bending over
- Numbness, weakness in the buttocks/legs
- Gait abnormalities
- Loss of bowel and/or bladder control (uncommon)
Surgery is not always required to treat spondylosis. Non-surgical care targets condition management and relief of symptoms. Typical interventions include:
- Medications (such as pain medicine and anti-inflammatory agents)
- Physical therapy
Most patients respond well to a multidisciplinary treatment approach that includes medication and physical therapy. For patients with persistent pain, epidural steroid injections may provide relief for up to six months. If the pain comes from small joints between vertebras (e.g. facets), the pain may be relieved with facet block injections.
If non-surgical treatments fail or pain becomes unrelenting, surgery may be recommended. Decompression surgery involves the removal of tissue or bone to relieve pressure on the nerves. In cases of spinal instability, spinal fusion is often the best treatment option. Early and appropriate treatment is key to managing this disorder and minimizing loss of function.
Left untreated, spondylosis may get worse and cause pain, limit range of motion, and make the body stiff. Effective treatments for spondylosis exist, but require expert care.
The main risk factors for spondylosis is advancing age, obesity, lack of exercises and likely or strong genetic predisposition.
Spondylosis is a degenerative condition of the spine, which may cause pain, limited mobility, and stiffness.