The structural components of the spine affected by spondylosis include the intervertebral discs, facet joints, and ligaments. As biochemical changes occur, collagen—a key structural component of the intervertebral disc—is affected by the loss of water content. Discs may weaken and wear out causing a reduction in disc height and an increase in the risk for disc bulging and herniation.
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.