Common Spondylosis Questions

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Spondylosis is arthritis that affects the spine. It is sometimes called spinal osteoarthritis. Spondylosis is a degenerative spinal disorder that commonly develops in people over age 40. It can affect any region of the spine—the cervical region (neck), thoracic region (mid-back), or lumbar region (low back).

Osteoarthritis in the spine; spondylosisWhat Causes Spondylosis?
Generally, growing older causes spondylosis. Throughout your life, your back does a lot of work: it carries the majority of your weight, for example. Over time, this natural and very normal wear and tear on your spine can cause a few issues.

Your intervertebral discs, the cushions in between your vertebrae, can become thin, weak, and at risk for bulging or even herniating.

Your facet joints, which help your spine (and therefore, you) move, can also be affected. They're covered by cartilage, and as you age, that cartilage can erode, making it more difficult and perhaps even painful for the bones to move. If you have a facet joint problem, your body may form bone spurs (osteophytes) in an effort to help itself. However, bones spurs can actually cause further pain and problems.

If Spondylosis Is Part of the Natural Aging Process, Why Doesn't Everyone Have Pain From It?
It is highly likely that most of us will have some form of degenerative changes in our spines; that's just what happens after a lifetime of using your back. However, not everyone will have pain or other symptoms associated with spondylosis for two reasons: the effects of aging aren't as severe for everyone, and whether you have pain depends on where your spine is affected by spondylosis.

For example, some people could have multiple bone spurs (osteophytes) develop; that's an effect of aging and degeneration. However, unless those bone spurs are pressing on a nerve, you won't have pain and other symptoms like numbness or tingling.

What Are Some Non-surgical Ways to Deal with Spondylosis?
Most patients with spondylosis respond well to non-surgical treatments. Your doctor may recommend:

  • over-the-counter medications
  • prescription medications
  • physical therapy
  • chiropractic care
  • bed rest
  • spinal traction
  • spinal injections

Will I Need Surgery?
Because most patients with spondylosis respond well to non-surgical treatments, surgery is rarely an option. It's also a decision that rests solely with you: Your doctor may recommend surgery, but it's all right to ask for a second opinion. You can decide that surgery isn't the right choice for you and your pain.

Your doctor will probably recommend surgery in the following instances:

  • You have bowel or bladder dysfunction. (This is rare, but it may occur with spinal cord compression.)
  • You have spinal stenosis, and your doctor feels that surgery is the best way to treat it.
  • You are experiencing other neurologic dysfunctions, such as severe arm or leg weakness.

There are various types of surgery you may have to relieve pain and other symptoms from spondylosis. Your doctor will recommend what type is best for you.

Updated on: 07/17/15
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Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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