Spondylosis is a medical term used to describe spinal arthritis (also called spinal osteoarthritis). Spinal osteoarthritis is the form of spondylosis affecting the spine's facet joints. Spondylosis is a common degenerative condition associated with aging and can affect the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), and lumbar (low back) spine. Biochemical changes at the cellular level are a natural part of growing older. Since people age differently, primarily due to heredity and lifestyle, the progression of spondylosis is individual.
The loss of disc height affects the function of the facet joints. As the facet joints degenerate, the cartilage covering joint surfaces erodes. In an effort to repair itself, the body forms osteophytes (bone spurs). Joints enlarge (called hypertrophy) causing osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Degenerative changes in the spine also cause the spine's ligaments to thicken and lose some strength.
Common Spondylosis Symptoms
Pain (eg, low back pain) is a common symptom and sometimes pain radiates from one area into another. For example, in cervical spondylosis, pain may spread from the neck into the shoulder or arm. Headaches at the back of the head may develop, and some patients report a loss of balance. Bone spurs may cause nerve compression leading to neurologic dysfunction such as arm and/or leg weakness. Morning stiffness is another common symptom. Sitting and activities associated with manual labor (repetitive movements) may aggravate pain.
Rare Spondylosis Symptoms
In rare situations, cervical osteophytes may make swallowing difficult. If the spinal cord is compressed, the patient may experience a loss of bladder or bowel control as well. If any of these symptoms develop, contact your physician immediately.
Most cases of spondylosis are mild and require little if any treatment. In more aggressive forms of the disease, especially in the cervical spine, the goal of treatment is to relieve pain and prevent spinal cord and nerve root injury. Common non-surgical treatments for spondylosis are summarized below.