Spondylosis is a general term that refers to the degeneration of the spine, especially the intervertebral discs and the facet joints. It is a common condition that affects many people as they age, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in the neck, back, and limbs. Spondylosis can also lead to other complications, such as nerve compression, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and osteoarthritis.
Spondylosis can affect any part of the spine, but it is more common in the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions. The symptoms and severity of spondylosis vary depending on the location and extent of the degeneration. Some people have no symptoms, while others experience chronic pain and disability.
Spondylosis is mainly caused by the natural wear and tear of the spine over time. The spine consists of a series of bones called vertebrae connected by intervertebral discs and facet joints. The discs act as shock absorbers, allowing the spine to bend and twist. The facet joints provide stability and limit the spine’s range of motion.
The discs lose their water content as we age and become thinner and less flexible. This reduces the space between the vertebrae and increases the pressure on the facet joints. The facet joints also degenerate due to friction and inflammation. These changes cause the spine to become less stable and more prone to injury.
Other factors that can contribute to spondylosis include:
- Genetics: Some people may inherit a predisposition to spondylosis or have congenital abnormalities in their spine.
- Lifestyle: Poor posture, obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, and repetitive movements can put extra stress on the spine and accelerate its degeneration.
- Trauma: Injuries such as fractures, sprains, strains, or dislocations can damage the spine and trigger inflammation and scar tissue formation.
- Infection: Bacterial or viral infections can affect the spine and cause inflammation and damage to the discs or joints.
- Disease: Certain diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, diabetes or cancer can affect the spine and cause inflammation, erosion, or compression of its structures.
What are the Symptoms of Spondylosis?
Spondylosis symptoms depend on which part of the spine is affected and how severe the degeneration is.
Some common symptoms include:
- Pain: This is usually felt in the affected area of the spine or radiates to other parts of the body, such as the shoulders, arms, hips, or legs. The pain may be dull, sharp, throbbing or burning. It may worsen with movement, coughing, sneezing, or straining.
- Stiffness: This is felt in the affected area of the spine or limits its range of motion. It may be worse in the morning or after prolonged periods of inactivity.
- Numbness or tingling: This is felt in the areas that are supplied by the nerves that are compressed by the degenerated spine. It may affect one or both sides of the body.
- Weakness: This is felt in the muscles innervated by the nerves compressed by the degenerated spine. It may affect one or both sides of the body.
- Spasms are involuntary contractions of the muscles attached to or near the affected spinal area. They may cause pain or limit movement.
- Deformity: This is seen as a change in the shape or alignment of the spine due to severe degeneration or instability. It may cause a humpback (kyphosis), swayback (lordosis) or sideways curvature (scoliosis).
How is Spondylosis Diagnosed?
Spondylosis is diagnosed based on medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests. The doctor will ask about your symptoms, when they started, how they affect your daily activities, and if you have any risk factors for spondylosis. The doctor will also examine your spine for signs of tenderness, swelling, deformity, or reduced mobility.
Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans can help confirm the diagnosis of spondylosis and show the extent and location of the degeneration. They can also rule out conditions that may cause similar symptoms, such as tumours, infections, or fractures.
How is Spondylosis Treated?
Spondylosis treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and the impact on the quality of life. The main goals of treatment are to relieve pain, improve function and prevent further damage to the spine.
The treatment options include:
- Medications: These include painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and nerve pain medications. They can help reduce pain and inflammation and improve mobility. However, they may have side effects such as stomach irritation, drowsiness, or addiction. They should be used with caution and under medical supervision.
- Physical therapy: This involves exercises, stretches, massage, and other techniques that can help strengthen the muscles that support the spine, improve posture and flexibility and reduce pressure on the nerves. A physical therapist can design a customized program for your condition and goals.
- Braces or supports: These devices can help stabilize the spine and limit its movement. They can also provide support and comfort to the affected area. They may be worn temporarily or permanently depending on the situation.
- Injections: These are procedures that involve injecting substances such as steroids, anaesthetics, or botulinum toxin into or near the affected area of the spine. They can help reduce pain and inflammation and block nerve signals. They may provide temporary or long-term relief depending on the type and dose of the injection.
- Surgery: This is an option for cases where conservative treatments have failed or where there is severe nerve compression, spinal instability, or deformity. Surgery can involve removing part or all of the degenerated disc or joint, fusing two or more vertebrae, inserting artificial discs or joints, or decompressing the nerves. Surgery can help relieve pain and restore function but carries risks such as infection, bleeding, nerve damage, or implant failure.
How to Prevent Spondylosis?
Spondylosis is not entirely preventable as it is part of the natural ageing process. However, some steps can help slow its progression and reduce its impact on your health and well-being. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Excess weight can stress your spine and accelerate its degeneration. Losing weight can help reduce this pressure and improve your posture and mobility.
- Staying active: Regular exercise can help keep your spine strong and flexible and prevent stiffness and pain. It can also improve your blood circulation and deliver nutrients to your spine. Choose low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling that do not strain your spine.
- Practising good posture: Poor posture can cause uneven weight distribution on your spine and increase its wear and tear. It can also affect your breathing, digestion, and mood. Keep your spine aligned and balanced when sitting, standing, or lying down. Use ergonomic furniture and equipment that support your spine and avoid slouching or hunching over.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking can damage your blood vessels and reduce the oxygen supply to your spine. It can also increase inflammation and slow down healing. Quitting smoking can help improve your overall health and prevent further damage to your spine.
- Managing stress: Stress can cause muscle tension and spasms in your neck and back. It can also affect your sleep quality and mood. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress, such as meditation, yoga, or hobbies, can help relax your mind and body and reduce pain.
Spondylosis is a common condition that affects many people as they age. It can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in the spine and other body parts. Spondylosis can be diagnosed by medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests.
The treatment options vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and the impact on the quality of life. They include medications, physical therapy, braces or supports, injections, and surgery. Spondylosis is not entirely preventable, but some steps can help slow its progression and reduce its impact on your health and well-being.
These include maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, practising good posture, avoiding smoking, and managing stress. If you have any questions or concerns about spondylosis, visit the spineinfo