Have you heard of the term ‘spondylosis’ before? If you’ve been in the doctor’s office for an X-ray because of back pain, this may or may not be a word that was used to describe what’s happening in your spine on a structural level. If you’ve never heard of it before but are wondering if this is something that you may have, or if you’ve been told you have spondylosis but aren’t sure what it actually is, read on to find out.
The word ‘Spondylosis’ is interchangeable with the terms ‘lumbar/cervical osteoarthritis’, ‘disc degeneration’, or ‘degenerative disk disease’. The long definition: Spondylosis is the mechanical response of adjacent vertebral bone to disc degeneration, giving radiological signs of joint space narrowing, osteophytosis, subchondral sclerosis, and cyst formation.
In short? Spondylosis is basically the degeneration of the spine – the spinal equivalent of osteoarthritis. When an X-ray is taken, some visible changes will be seen: The joint spaces are narrowed, bone spurs are present, thickening of bone edges, and harmless fluid-filled holes may develop inside of bones.
Is spondylosis also ‘spondylitis’? Not exactly. Spondylitis means inflammation in your spinal bones (vertebra). This inflammation often results in pain with difficulty moving. Spondylosis, or degeneration, is frequently asymptomatic. So while a person may have spondylosis, it may only be until spondylitis occurs when the bone spurs and joint narrowing start to impinge on the surrounding nerves that it is diagnosed.
Cervical spondylosis means the degeneration of the cervical vertebra, which are the first 7 spinal bones of the neck. Cervical spondylosis most often affects the levels of C5/C6 and C6/C7. What can cause cervical spondylosis is poor posture where the head pokes forward too much (‘anterior head carriage’ or ‘forward head posture’) which is unfortunately often seen in many office workers and those who need to work with computers daily.
Thoracic spondylosis refers to the 12 vertebrae right after the cervical vertebrae. Degeneration here is not as common as other areas of the spine, because they are not put under as much load as the other spine regions. This forms the midback and has the support of the shoulder blades and rib cage during daily activities.
Lumbar spondylosis is very common, and usually can be found in those experiencing low back pain who have a history of loading their lower back too much (e.g. sitting for very long periods of time with inactivity, or excessively carrying heavy loads and bending up and down).
Lumbosacral means the spinal joints between the lower back (lumbar region) and the sacrum (the part which forms the tailbone and joins to your hips). This can also be seen in those who have lumbar spondylosis. When a person has symptomatic lumbosacral spondylosis, they may also have symptoms not just in the lower back but also around the hip and buttock regions.
Some very common symptoms of spondylosis are:
Stiffness can often occur along with clicking or cracking sounds when you try to move the affected joint – bending, twisting, or just moving around in general. Waking up in the morning can feel like you need to oil your joints because of the stiffness that takes some time to get better! Movement often helps to relieve the stiffness.
Paresthesias means any kind of sensations that may appear other than pain. This includes numbness, tingling, or electricity-like feelings going down the neck and arms (for cervical spondylosis), or down the hips and legs (for multilevel lumbar spondylosis). This also usually means there is some nerve involvement causing these sensations.
You might find that where things were easy to do before (like bending down to pick something up) suddenly becomes much more difficult to do, or takes a longer time. Limited motion can be a classic symptom of spondylosis, because of the joint stiffness that happens due to the joint
While not all spondylosis sufferers experience pain, a sudden movement or activity that the spine is not ready for can really trigger a flare of pain. Due to the narrowed joint spaces and potential for nerve endings to become sensitised when there is degeneration of the spine, a painful flare can last for days or weeks and require immediate attention.
Spondylosis describes degenerative (arthritic) changes within the cervical or lumbar spine. This may or may not be accompanied by the compression of nerves or the spinal cord surrounding the spine.
Spinal stenosis means narrowing or compression of the spinal nerves in the spine due to spinal degeneration (wear and tear/arthritis).
Hence, not all spondylosis presents with stenosis. But they can appear concurrently at the same time.
There are some short-term and long-term risks of leaving spondylosis untreated.
While spondylosis is not a life-threatening condition, it can severely affect your quality of life. Addressing your spondylosis early can help to prevent surgery down the line.
Surgery is only usually done in severe cases – this means extreme pain and inability to move, and the nerve compression has happened to the extent that there are serious symptoms such as bladder or bowel dysfunction, and numbness around the genital region (saddle anaesthesia). Otherwise, spondylosis treatment and pain relief can often be effectively done through conservative means such as chiropractic and physiotherapy care.
For more FAQ’s on Back Pain and Surgery, read more here: The Top 10 Questions Clients Ask About Back Pain Including Avoiding Surgery
Chiropractic care focuses on adjustment of your spine, which reduces the restrictions and stiffness in the spine. This allows greater blood flow and circulation to the degenerative or arthritic spine, allowing for better movement and healing. To read more about chiropractic care and what happens in our clinic, check out this page: Chiropractic Treatment & Services in KL | Bone Joint Adjustment Specialist
Rehabilitation involves the assessment of faulty movement patterns and imbalances that contribute to further wear and tear of the spine. Weakness in muscles that support the back (such as your core, hip, or even upper body) causes overactivity of the muscles near the spine. By addressing your muscles and movements, this helps to spread out loads across your spine, giving you long-term results.
Decompression helps to unload the spine and allow further healing in spondylosis cases which are severe enough to cause pain that affects a person’s quality of life. Decompression is not traction, and we recommend this to those suffering from extreme back pain.
Early prevention is the best cure.
We have been treating back cases and spondylosis since 2014, and have seen an increase in cases coming through our doors throughout the years. Having seen results with a combination of chiropractic, physiotherapy, and decompression care, this brings us to realise that recovery is very much an individual process. If you are suffering from spondylosis and require a consultation of what we can do for you, book online here for an initial consultation today.
Cervical Spondylosis (Arthritis of the Neck) – OrthoInfo – AAOS. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/cervical-spondylosis-arthritis-of-the-neck/
Middleton, K., Fish, D.E. Lumbar spondylosis: clinical presentation and treatment approaches. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med 2, 94–104 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12178-009-9051-x