Spondylosis is a medical term that is sometimes used by doctors to broadly refer to various forms of spinal degeneration that occur during the normal aging process. Other doctors use the term more specifically to refer to the presence of spinal osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by deterioration of cartilage that covers the facet joints in the spine. These joints are located in between individual vertebrae and help provide the spine with the ability to bend, twist, and flex.
Causes and Risk Factors
Spondylosis, by definition, is caused by growing older. Risk factors can include obesity, genetic tendencies, and traumatic injury, but the most common cause is age-related degeneration due to years of wear and tear. The soft tissues in the spine – intervertebral discs, ligaments, tendons, and the cartilage that lines the facet joints – all begin to deteriorate over time. Discs, which are normally saturated with water, dehydrate and weaken. Facet joint cartilage begins to wear away, allowing bone-on-bone contact and prompting the development of bone spurs. Ligaments and tendons tighten and grow stiff. While some individuals experience more degenerative changes than others, most individuals will exhibit some form of deterioration of the spinal components in an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan by the age of 40.
The typical spine consists of 33 vertebrae, 24 of which are individually stacked to create the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), and lumbar (lower back) regions of the spine. Nine fused vertebrae make up the sacrum and coccyx (tailbone). Spondylosis is usually diagnosed in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions and is often classified by its location:
- Cervical spondylosis – affects the seven cervical vertebrae (C1-C7) that make up the neck region; deterioration is common here, given that these vertebrae are highly mobile and must support the weight of the head.
- Thoracic spondylosis – affects the 12 thoracic vertebrae (T1-T12); deterioration is possible in the middle back, but is less common, as this area is of the spine is connected to, and supported by, the ribcage.
- Lumbar spondylosis – affects the five lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5); degeneration is prevalent in this area of the spine, particularly because vertebrae in the lower back support the body’s weight and help facilitate a wide range of motion.
- Multilevel spondylosis – affects the spinal components in more than one region of the spine.
Common Symptoms & Treatment Methods
Not every spondylosis patient will experience symptoms. Pain, muscle weakness, tingling, and numbness can arise if spinal degeneration leads to the development of an anatomical abnormality (bulging or herniated disc, calcified ligaments, bone spurs, etc.) that comes into contact with the spinal cord or one of its nerve roots. A patient with spinal arthritis also may experience neck or back pain, stiffness, inflammation, and a reduced range of motion. Treatment for these symptoms generally begins with
conservative (nonsurgical) options, such as pain medication, hot/cold therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy. In the event symptoms persist after several weeks or months, a doctor may recommend surgery. Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how one of our state-of-the-art endoscopic procedures can help relieve symptoms of spondylosis.