What is Spondylosis?

Instead of indicating a specific diagnosis, spondylosis refers to any condition that results in degenerative changes of the spine. Although spondylosis is most commonly used to denote spinal osteoarthritis, a variety of spinal problems fit the broad criteria for spondylosis.

Facet Joint Osteoarthritis (also known as Facet Joint Disease) accounts for the bulk of spondylosis cases. Facet joints are hinges on the back of the spine where bone meets bone—or in this case, where vertebra meets vertebra. As we age, the cumulative effects of everyday wear and tear may cause the rubbery cartilage that cushions our facet joints to erode. This degenerative process triggers a cascade of pain-generating events, as unprotected bone grinds excruciatingly against unprotected bone.

For example—just as calluses may form to reinforce your fingertips against overuse—your facet joints may develop bony protrusions (known as bone spurs) to compensate for the loss of this protective cartilage. These outcroppings of overgrown bone may impinge upon the space typically reserved for neighboring nerves, causing the characteristic symptoms of pinched nerve pain.

What are the Symptoms of Spondylosis?

General Symptoms:

Because the term spondylosis can be applied broadly to describe any manner of spinal degeneration, the symptoms of spondylosis will vary widely. Unless your spondylosis involves nerve compression or facet joint pain, for example, it is possible to have spondylosis and be asymptomatic. However, more commonly, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Searing pain that radiates outward to the limbs from the region of spinal degeneration in the neck or back
  • Paresthesia: Numbness, tingling, or prickling sensations in your extremities
  • Balance disturbances or muscular weakness that impedes your ability to move your arms and legs (gross motor control) or your hands, wrists, fingers, and feet (fine motor skills)
  • Facet joint stiffness that interferes with your ability to rotate your head and/or torso
  • Stiffness and pain that worsens with prolonged sitting or standing
  • Emergency Symptoms: Seek urgent medical care if you experience debilitating or excruciating pain; involuntary control of your bowels or bladder; saddle anesthesia (or unrelenting numbness in the saddle region of your inner thighs, buttocks, and groin); or a fever higher than 100.0℉

Although spondylosis can affect any region of the spine, lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) spondylosis are more common than thoracic (mid-spine) degeneration. This is because both the lumbar and cervical spine sustain substantial wear and tear from supporting the weight of the torso and head, respectively. Symptoms of lumbar or cervical spondylosis may include:

Lumbar (lower back) Symptoms

Lumbar spondylosis may result in sciatica, or warm pain that erupts from the sciatic nerve in the lower back and diffuses downward through the buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet. Additionally, facet joint stiffness in the lower back may affect your ability to twist, bend, or extend your lumbar spine. You may also experience difficulty walking or maintaining proper posture.

Cervical (neck) Symptoms

Cervical spondylosis may cause cervical radiculopathy, or pain that radiates from the site of nerve compression in the neck and down through the shoulders, arms, hands, and/or fingertips. Additional symptoms associated with cervical spondylosis may include: shoulder blade pain, headaches at the base of the head; dizziness; or “crunching” sensations while rotating the neck

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What are the Treatments for Spondylosis?

Non-Surgical Treatments:

Treatment options for spondylosis will vary according to the cause of your spinal degeneration. However—regardless of whether your spondylosis results from Facet Joint Disease, Spinal Stenosis, or Degenerative Disc Disease—your doctor will commence treatment by exploring non-surgical options. Effective noninvasive treatments for spondylosis may include:

  • Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory, or pain medications to ease acute discomfort
  • Steroidal or epidural injections to provide pain relief at the site of spinal deterioration
  • Physical therapy to preserve spinal mobility and enhance lumbar strength
  • Manual spinal manipulation from a licensed chiropractor
  • Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, myofascial release, or yoga

Conservative treatment methods are usually effective at relieving spondylosis pain without the need for surgery. After six months of continuous treatment, however, some individuals will find that their pain continues to worsen in intensity rather than abate. In these instances, Dr. Frazier—our “New York Super Doctor” and Harvard alum—may recommend:

Laminectomy

A laminectomy is a minimally invasive procedure in which your surgeon removes a thin segment of the lamina—or bony plate that forms the backside of your vertebra. Extraction of the lamina not only achieves bone spur removal, but also accomplishes lumbar nerve decompression—eliminating symptoms of pinched nerve pain that assail the lower body.

Artificial Disc Replacement

An artificial disc replacement is a sophisticated solution to spondylosis that eliminates the need for spinal fusion. This outpatient surgical procedure involves removal of the degenerated disc and replacement with a prosthetic model. Avoiding fusion allows the patient to preserve mobility in the neck and decreases mechanical stress on adjacent vertebrae.

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