Spondylosis (Spinal Arthritis): Reduce Back and Neck Pain
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 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.
Acupuncture is a popular treatment used to help alleviate back and neck pain. Tiny needles, about the size of a human hair, are inserted into specific points on the body. Each needle may be twirled, electrically stimulated, or warmed to enhance the effect of the treatment. It is believed that acupuncture works (in part) by prompting the body to produce chemicals that help to reduce pain.
- Bed Rest
Severe cases of spondylosis may require bed rest for no more than 1 to 3 days. Long-term bed rest is not recommended because it puts patient at risk for deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs).
- Brace Use
Temporary bracing (usually for about a week) may help relieve spondylosis symptoms, but long-term use is not recommended. Braces worn long-term weaken the spinal muscles and can increase pain if not constantly worn. Physical therapy is more beneficial for spondylosis because it strengthens the spinal muscles.