Spondylosis is a Type of Arthritis Affecting the Spine

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Spondylosis is a degenerative disorder of the spine. It is arthritis of the spine characterized by wear and tear. It may involve growth of bone spurs on the vertebrae, degeneration of joints and discs, or both. The above changes impair the movement of the spine and disrupt nerve function.

As an individual grows old, the intervertebral discs begin to lose fluid, causing a fall in the disc height. Ligaments also thicken, and the cartilage surrounding the facet joint wears away. The most common form of the disorder is cervical spondylosis which affects the neck as an individual gets old.

Studies reveal that over 85% of individuals above 60 years suffer from cervical spondylosis. Other types of spondylosis include multilevel spondylosis affecting numerous parts of the spine, thoracic spondylosis and lumbar spondylosis. The effects of the disorder vary from person to person. However, spondylosis is not associated with severe complications. Common symptoms are stiffness and pain that are always off and on.

Causes and Risk Factors

The spine protects and carries most of the main nerve branches from the brain. Besides, it supports most of the body weight and gives structure to the body. The facet joints present between the vertebrae allows flexible movement of the spine. The intervertebral discs cushion any impact and allow for smooth movement.

As you get older, the discs get harder, thinner, and drier. The outcome is a loss in the cushioning ability. Hence, the reason older people are more prone to vertebral fracture than young individuals. Because of the wear and tear on the cartilage surfaces, facet joints will also malfunction. Vertebral compression occurs with osteoporosis when a spinal bone collapses.

With the erosion of the cartilage, the bones begin to rub against each other, leading to friction. The outcome is the formation of bone spurs. The loss of rubber tissue leads to a stiffer spine, and persistent wear and tear lead to spondylosis with time.

Note that the changes present differently based on an individual’s risk factor. The risk factors for spondylosis include:

  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • A genetic tendency
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle with inactivity

Others include trauma to the spine and mental conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Symptoms of Spondylosis

The quality of symptoms is based on the location and severity of arthritic changes. In cervical spondylosis, stiffness or generalized aching is common. In most cases, these symptoms worsen at night or in the morning. Pain may also be present with movements and radiate into the back, head, or shoulder. The discomfort may be termed as a spasm or muscle tightness.

Cervical spondylosis is also associated with headaches at the skull base that radiates to the occipital neuralgia. In severe cases, the disorder may exert pressure on the nearby neural structures to cause pain, weakness, tingling, or numbing sensation. The pain may extend into the arm, shoulder, and back.

If spondylosis exerts pressure on the spinal cord, symptoms associated with myelopathy may be observed. Such symptoms include heaviness in the extremities, difficulty in balancing, bladder or bowel incontinence. Besides, there could be challenges with fine motor skills.

For patients with thoracic spondylosis, similar symptoms as those with cervical spondylosis will be observed. Patients with lumbar spondylosis may experience radiculopathy. Spinal stenosis may also result if changes are severe.

Treatment of Spondylosis

In most cases, the disorder is mild, with occasional pain and stiffness. If the pain persists, the physician may recommend some of the following options:

  • Pain relievers
  • Topical creams
  • Drugs that alleviate nerve pain
  • Muscle relaxants

Sometimes an injection will be given to minimize pain by suppressing inflammation. However, chronic use of these injections is also associated with adverse systemic effects. It is advisable to adhere to the physician’s instructions on the safe use of these medications.

Some alternative treatments that have proven effective in managing spondylosis include electrical stimulation, ultrasound treatment, massage, chiropractic treatment, and acupuncture.

If the condition is severe, and if other treatment options are ineffective, the doctor may recommend surgery. A person may require surgery if the pinched nerve causes bladder or bowel incontinence that may worsen in the absence of surgery. The specific surgery will depend on the problem and its exact location. The less invasive spinal surgery is the most suitable because it is associated with fewer risks.