What is spondylosis? Degenerative osteoarthritis of the spine
Wear and tear arthritis
Spondylosis is a broad medical term that describes degenerative spinal osteoarthritis of the various joints of the back bone; it is only a general term used to describe a part of the aging process that affects the spine of everyone as we get older. As with many other terms used to describe the condition of the spine, spondylosis is only a descriptive term and not a formal diagnosis.
While spondylosis is a broad problem that can affect any section or level of the spine, it is most often applied to the neck or the cervical spine. Lumbar spondylosis does occur, but to a lesser extent since most problems that affect the low back affect the disc tissue and the nerves of the area, and not as significantly the lumbar spinal segments in comparison to the cervical segments. Hence, spondylosis is more commonly thought of as a neck problem and not a lower back problem.
Because spondylosis is a blanket term that describes only in a general way the common degenerative arthritis of the spinal vertebra, it is not meant to be specifically descriptive so the term spondylosis will leave some questions unanswered. Technically, if the spondylosis affects the disc region of the spine, it would more accurately be called degenerative disc disease; if the spondylosis affects the facet joints of the spine, it would more accurately be called facet syndrome; if the spondylosis affects the condition of the opening of the spinal cord or spinal foramina through which nerve roots pass, it would more accurately be called spinal stenosis.
When spondylosis affects different regions of the spine it is usually labeled using that area name, so that osteoarthritis of the neck is called cervical spondylosis, osteoarthritis of the low back is called lumbar spondylosis, and osteoarthritis of the very bottom joint of the lumbar spine that rests on the sacrum is called lumbosacral spondylosis. All of these are general descriptions that only give the general information that there is the aging type of arthritis in the neck, low back or lumbosacral part of the spine. It is all helpful information, but limited in nature.
Degeneration of the spine is such a common and natural phenomenon for people after 50 years of age that it is more common to have spinal osteoarthritis than to not have it. It is estimated that over 80% of people over the age of 40 have some evidence of spondylosis on X-ray studies, however many of them do not know it because they do not have any pain or related symptoms. Lower back or lumbar spondylosis is present in 27%-37% of people without creating symptoms. The rate and degree of spondylosis developing in a spine is related to genetic factors, posture, occupational and injury history. Click here to learn more about lumbar spondylosis.
The problem with using the term spondylosis as a diagnosis is that it does not define specifically what is the causing the patient’s complaints or what part of the spine is affected. It would be like saying it is raining outside; the term rain gives information, but it is general. Most farmers would want to know if the rain is a drizzle, light sprinkle, moderate rain, steady rain, heavy rain, downpour, etc. They would also like to know if the rain is coming from a small, medium or large cloud pattern. The same with spondylosis; more details are needed to fully understand what is going on:
- In a case of spinal stenosis, which is an example of spondylosis, that is an abnormal narrowing or closing of the spinal canal, it would explain why a patient has leg pain after walking.
- In a case of osteoarthritis of the facet joints of the spine, which is an example of spondylosis, that is involvement of the hinges upon which the spinal vertebrae move when the spine is bent forward and backward, it would explain why a patient has pain after vigorous activity.
- In a case of degenerative disc disease of the spine, which is an example of spondylosis, that occurs when a disc ages, becomes flat and dehydrated and loses some of its shock absorbing function, it would explain why a patient has neck or low back pain that radiates into the arms or legs.
Wear and tear arthritis in the neck, or cervical spondylosis, causes slightly different symptoms than other parts of the spine because the surrounding anatomy of the neck is so much different and more fragile than other parts of the spine. Not only are the discs smaller and the muscles smaller and weaker, and the nerves larger passing through smaller nerve openings, but the fact that the neck must carry and balance a 12 pound skull on top of it has the potential to create significant damage and start cervical spondylosis earlier than in other parts of the spine. In advanced cases of cervical spondylosis a larger part of the spinal cord can become compressed and irritated in the neck, affecting not just the nerve supply to the arms, but the nerve supply to the legs also.
Treatment for cervical spondylosis
Because cervical spondylosis is wear and tear arthritis of the neck region Acupuncture or acupressure treatment of spondylosis can be extremely effective. There are many things a person can do to get relief from cervical spondylosis and neck pain.
Risk factors of cervical spondylosis include:
- Being overweight
- Lack of exercise
- Work that stresses the neck and upper back (looking up or twisting neck repeatedly, wearing a hard hat, bending neck while talking on phone, repeated bouncing in heavy equipment, etc.)
- Past automobile or sports injuries to the neck (often many years earlier)
- Past spinal surgery
- Ruptured or slipped disk
- Severe arthritis
- Osteoporosis allowing small fractures to develop in cervical spine
Common symptoms of cervical spondylosis
Symptoms of wear and tear arthritis of the neck usually develop slowly and increase gradually over time, but sudden progression is possible. A common symptom of early cervical spondylosis is slight occasional popping or clicking from within the neck during neck movements like rotation or when moving the neck beyond its normal range of motion.
Pain can be mild to severe, superficial or deep, felt in a small local area or widespread to the shoulders and base of skull, an annoyance or totally disruptive to life:
• After prolonged standing or sitting
• While in bed, especially after sleeping face down or on more than one pillow
• During or after a sneeze, cough, or laughter
• When the head is tipped excessively tipped forward or backward
• After walking a short distance
Complaints related to cervical spondylosis
- Neck pain and stiffness that gets worse over time
- Radiation of pain into the shoulders, arms and hands
- Muscle spasm in neck and shoulder without provocation
- Weak or clumsy feeling in arms or hands
- Numbness or abnormal sensations in the shoulders, arms or hands
- Headaches, especially in the back of the head
- Sensation of popping, grinding or movement coming from the neck while moving it
- Less commonly, loss of balance or loss of bladder or bowel control due to spinal cord pressure
There are many easy and safe measures to take that will reduce the intensity and frequency of bouts of neck pain and stiffness related to cervical spondylosis (wear and tear arthritis of the neck). Learn about them at spondylosis treatment.
Cervical spondylosis complication
A major problem related to cervical spondylosis is problem with a major blood vessel that passes through the neck, known as vertebrobasilar insufficiency. In this situation the vertebral artery becomes partially blocked by pressed upon by the same bone growths and spurs that cause spinal stenosis pressure on the nerves of the area. When a cervical disc weakens and bulges it can cause blood vessel pressure that creates severe dizziness and loss of consciousness, known as a “drop attack“ that can lead to a stroke.