Aging is perhaps the single avoidable yet undesirable human curse. Despite our deepest desires to discover the Fountain of Youth, most of us will suffer the process of aging and degeneration. Spondylosis is one such health complication that accompanies the wear and tear of aging. While the vertebrae and the two joints in the back of the spine, called facet joints, may be strong and flexible in youth, they do not remain that way forever.
Eventually, we will all have arthritis of the back or spondylosis. However, not all of us will experience symptoms. Depending on your lifestyle and back strength, you may not even feel the effects of spondylosis! Keep reading to learn more about spondylosis, its symptoms, and the available treatment options.
What is Spondylosis?
Unfortunately, spondylosis is an unavoidable health complication. A type of arthritis, it is caused by continued use of the spine and the degeneration of facet joints. The most common form of spondylosis is called cervical spondylotic myelopathy and occurs in the neck when the spinal cord compresses with age. The spine’s movement becomes impaired when discs and facet joints degenerate or bone spurs grow on the vertebrae. Bone spurs can affect the nerves and other functions of the neck and back.
Vertebrae, a small system of bones that make up the spine, are separated by intervertebral discs and interconnected by facet joints that prevent them from rubbing against one another or pinching the nerves. Spondylosis develops as the intervertebral discs wear down or bone spurs develop, making the spine stiffer. The condition becomes concerning when symptoms arise that could lead to progressive neurological damage.
Is Spondylosis a Disability?
Spondylosis is qualified as a degenerative disorder, and some of its more severe symptoms can prevent individuals from holding a job. Thus, you may be qualified for Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits to provide you with income when the pain, instability, and weakness caused by your spondylosis make it impossible to work.
According to the Blue Book, Section 1.04: Disorders of the Spine, degenerative disc disease is listed as a disability. To apply for benefits with spondylosis, you must provide evidence of painful nerve compression, limited spinal mobility, motor loss, or sensory loss. Thus, depending on the condition and other symptoms you are dealing with, your spondylosis may be defined as a disability.
Are There Other Types of Spondylosis?
Yes, there are four different types of spondylosis:
- Lumbar spondylosis;
- Thoracic spondylosis;
- Multilevel spondylosis;
- Cervical spondylosis.
Each type is developed because of wear and tear in different parts of the spinal cord. For example, thoracic spondylosis affects the middle of the spinal cord, while lumbar spondylosis affects the lower back or lumbar spine. Cervical spondylosis is the spinal cord compression of the neck or cervical spine and may require neck surgery to relieve pressure and reduce pain. Meanwhile, multilevel spondylosis affects more than one part of the spinal cord.
How Common is Spondylosis?
Our bodies begin to wear and tear as we age; therefore, everyone will have spondylosis over time. However, symptoms can significantly vary and depend on the extent of arthritis, as seen through visual scanning. While spondylosis is most common in those over the age of 40, it can occur at younger ages for those born with a narrow spinal canal.
Cervical spondylosis or cervical myelopathy is the most common type of progressive disorder. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, over 85% of people aged 60 have cervical spondylosis.
What Conditions Can Lead to Spondylosis?
There are several different reasons why arthritis may develop in the spinal cord. However, three of the most common conditions that lead to cervical spondylosis are herniated discs, degenerative discs, and bone spurs.
Disc herniations occur when spinal discs rupture and cause the vertebrae to rub against each other, leading to inflammation and arthritis. When someone has a history of herniated discs, they are at increased risk of developing cervical spondylosis.
Patients diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease are more likely to develop cervical spondylosis. An intervertebral disc is filled with fluid that creates a cushion between one or more vertebrae. If the disc degenerates, the vertebrae begin rubbing against each other, causing cervical spondylosis.
Bone spurs cause inflammation, which again results in vertebrae rubbing against different portions of the spinal cord. As with a herniated disc or a degenerative disc, the rubbing of bone spurs leads to arthritis.
How is Spondylosis Diagnosed?
The process of cervical spondylosis diagnosis involves several steps. First, schedule an initial consultation with your doctor. During this first visit, you will undergo a detailed medical history and comprehensive physical exam to better understand your medical circumstances.
After these preliminary tests, your doctor could order imaging scans to examine the vertebrae and spinal discs more closely. Imaging such as X-rays, CT, or MRI scans is key for the proper diagnosis of cervical spondylosis and soft tissue damage.
What are the Main Spondylosis Symptoms?
While those with age-related cervical spondylosis generally do not suffer from severe symptoms, they can trigger other symptoms through sudden movement. In addition, staying still for long periods without moving can trigger mild symptoms. Common symptoms include stiffness or mild back pain that worsens after certain movements or long periods of immobility.
More severe symptoms of cervical spondylosis include:
- Grinding or popping feeling when the spine moves;
- Weakening of the hands or legs;
- Poor coordination;
- Muscles pain and spasms;
- Back or neck pain;
- Arm pain;
- Loss of balance or difficulty walking;
- Loss of bowel or bladder control.
Spondylosis can also lead to spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal, which can be relatively painful.
Spondylosis Treatment Options
Most cases of cervical spondylosis myelopathy result in only occasional stiffness or back pain and may not require any treatment. But there are also some less invasive treatments for relieving mild discomfort. Many use the following methods to manage cervical spondylosis symptoms:
According to research, some of these options may relieve pain from spinal stenosis, pinched nerves, or damage that originates from the neck or cervical spine.
Home Remedies for Spondylosis
There are many different home remedies for relieving cervical spondylosis myelopathy discomfort. Alternative treatments include keeping physically active or over-the-counter medications to relieve back pain. In addition, physical therapists may recommend using certain exercises and physical therapy to prevent spondylosis.
You can also keep some symptoms at bay by staying physically active. There are many low-impact exercises, such as swimming or walking, that can help the muscles in the spine stay flexible and strong. Similarly, maintaining proper posture can help lessen back or neck pain.
Physical therapists can provide you with specific exercises and tips for managing your condition. Sometimes, massages or back support are necessary to keep the spinal cord healthy. By using a chair or mattress specifically suited to support your back, you can help delay or lessen the effects of cervical spondylosis.
Over-the-counter muscle relaxants or pain medications such as ibuprofen may help with some back pain. However, if the pain is severe or consistent, a doctor may prescribe or suggest some of the following:
- Prescription medication to provide pain relief;
- Muscle relaxants (to reduce spasms);
- Drugs to ease spinal nerve pain;
- Topical creams;
- Steroid medications for severe pain;
- A combined steroid and anesthetic medication injection.
Steroids relieve pain by reducing inflammation. They are injected directly into the affected nerves of the spinal canal by using an X-ray for visual guidance. Unfortunately, steroids can also have some adverse effects, so a doctor will generally limit their use.
Spine surgery is used as a last option to treat cervical spondylosis if the symptoms are too severe or persistent. Surgery may be necessary if pinched nerves are causing severe numbness, weakness, or loss of bladder/bowel control. If physical therapy or other nonsurgical treatments are incapable of easing the pain or stiffness, then there are different types of surgery options to explore.
The type of surgery depends on the problem and its location. Only a doctor can accurately identify the affected areas by using X-ray imaging technology. One surgery option is to remove bone spurs or discs pressing against the nerves. Another spondylosis surgery involves using an artificial disc to replace a damaged one.
Spinal column surgery used to be a significant procedure; however, surgeons can now use endoscopic or keyhole surgery as a much less invasive option. Minimally invasive spinal surgery has fewer risk factors and a reduced chance of causing pain or infection after surgery.
Luckily, most people with spondylosis do not require any surgery. The only way to know if the risks of spinal surgery are worth the benefits is by asking a medical professional’s opinion.
How Do We Prevent Spondylosis?
There are a few different ways to prevent the development of spondylosis.
First, avoid high-impact exercise. Patients participating in high-impact exercise routines are at a greater risk of developing spondylosis. This is because the pounding of the feet and knees can transfer to the spine and lead to spinal osteoarthritis.
A second prevention method is to maintain the range of neck movement through regular exercises and stretching. Use daily exercises such as side-to-side head rotations to improve your range of motion and reduce the chances of spondylosis. A physical therapist can help teach you the best exercises to prevent spondylosis.
Third, avoid smoking. Smoking sets patients at the highest risk for spondylosis.
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At the Bergen Chiropractic and Sports Rehabilitation Center, our chiropractic team, led by Dr. Gregory Doerr, follows the highest and most professional medical standards to provide superior chiropractic treatment. Our mission is to provide unparalleled patient care and services in a comfortable healing atmosphere. Contact us to learn more about our chiropractic services! Our chiropractic offices in Cliffside Park, NJ, and Hackensack, NJ, are ready to welcome you for a consultation! Also, we invite you to visit our blog page for more information on chiropractic treatments!