What is Spondylosis?

By: Nikki Clayton, PT, DPT, ATC

In orSpondylosis JOIImage of Spondylosisder to provide the simplest definition, let's first break down the word. In Latin, Spondy means spine and losis means problem. So, therefore, spondylosis is simply a problem with your spine. Used as an umbrella term, Spondylosis refers to degenerative changes in the spine and may include:  


Areas affected by Spondylosis

Spondylosis can affect any level of the spine:

  • Cervical 
    • Comprised of 7 vertebrae in your neck ( C1 – C7)
  • Thoracic
    • Comprised of 12 vertebrae in your mid back from your shoulders to waist ( T1 – T12)
  • Lumbar
    • Comprised of 5 vertebrae in your low back ( L1 – L5)
  • Sacrum
    • Comprised of 5 vertebrae fused into one bone at the very tail of your spine between the hips down to your tailbone


The following structures in your spine are affected by Spondylosis:

  • Intervertebral Disc
    • Discs in between your vertebra that act as pads or shock absorbers for your spine as it moves
  • Spinal cord and nerves
    • The spinal cord is an cable of nerves that travels through spine carrying messages between your brain and muscles
    • Nerve roots branch off the spinal cord through opening in the vertebrae
  • Facet Joints
    • Each vertebrae has four facet joints that work like hinges articulating with the vertebra above and below to allow the spine to extend, flex and rotate

What Causes Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is the result of degenerative changes in the spine.  Some of these changes may occur over time as we age.  These degenerative changes include:

Disc Degeneration

With age, the discs in the spine lose water causing the disc height to decrease and begin to dry out and become weakened. This may result in a disc bulge which may cause compression of nerve roots.

Arthritis

Degeneration of the discs results in increased pressure on the facet joints. This increased pressure causes the cartilage of the facet joints to wear away and develop arthritis over time.

Bone spurs

As cartilage breaks down, it can result in bone grinding against bone in the joint, leading to increased friction and loss of mobility.  The stress on the bony surface may stimulate new bone growth.  Over time, this may lead to the development of bone spurs which can narrow the opening which the nerves pass through causing compression on the nerves, muscles or ligaments.

What are the Symptoms of Spondylosis?

Your symptoms will depend on where the Spondylosis is affecting your spine.  Spondylosis commonly occurs in the neck and the low back. Because the neck supports the weight of the head throughout a wide range of movements makes it more susceptible. The low back is also prone to develop spondylosis because it supports and distributes a majority of the body's weight.

Symptoms include:

Pain

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Low Back Pain
  • These symptoms are a result of something compressing on the nerves
    • If the compression is in your neck, you may experience symptoms radiating down into the shoulder, arm and hand.
    • If the compression is in your low back, you may experience symptoms radiating down the buttocks, thigh and foot.

How is Spondylosis Treated?

The Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute is committed to helping patients with Spondylosis.  The quick answer is the JOI Spine Team has many treatment options available to treat Spondylosis, including:

  • Pain medications, anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants
  • Physical therapy
    • Use of specific exercises that will help relieve pain, increase mobility, increase strength and flexibility in spinal muscle to better support the spine and promote improved posture and relieve nerve compression in your spine.
    • Soft tissue massage to release tension in the muscles, tendons and ligaments
    • Heat pack
      • To promote increased blood flow to target area to promote increase oxygen and nutrients to involved area
    • Cold pack
      • To reduce circulation to help control inflammation, decrease pain and muscle spasms
    • Electrical Stimulation 
      • To reduce sensation of pain and muscle spasms
  • Bracing
    • Temporary treatment option used to help take pressure off spine, control pain by limiting motion, and help relax muscles 
    • Long term use not recommended as muscles will start to "depend" on brace and cause muscles to weaken

Surgery is seldom performed to treat Spondylosis, however, is necessary if you are experiencing neurological issues including:

  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction
  • Severe arm or leg weakness, numbness or tingling
  • Severe instability of the spine

The purpose of surgery is to remove what's compressing the nerve, causing the pain, and then fuse the spine to limit movement.

Conclusion

Spondylosis can be thought of as a "cause and effect" scenario.  Whether you are Linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars, or a receptionist in an office, the stresses of life cause wear and tear in the spine  It's a snowball effect, one change occurs, which then results in more degeneration in your spine. The combination of all these changes may lead to spondylosis and its symptoms.

If you would like to learn more about low back pain, got to our trending section at JOIonline.net or this article: Low Back Pain While Standing.  Please call JOI-2000, schedule online or click below for an appointment.

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