How to cope with spondylosis

Spondylosis is a general medical term that is sometimes used to describe the various spinal problems, including neck and back pain that can result from age-related degeneration and daily wear on the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. In that sense, it is more of a descriptive term than a clinical diagnosis.

Specifically, spondylosis often refers to the effects of very common conditions known as spinal osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease. However, the term may also be used more broadly when discussing any type of spinal degeneration, regardless of its underlying cause or location within the spine. Read on to learn about the causes of spondylosis as well as the methods available to relieve the debilitating symptoms associated with this condition.

What causes spondylosis?

The movements of daily life can take a toll on the neck and back over time, and several changes can take place in the spine that ultimately causes spondylosis. For instance, the normally flexible spinal discs can begin to dry up, and as their composition changes, they will become less effective as cushions and shock absorbers for the hard-working spinal bones. This can lead to painful bone-on-bone contact between vertebrae. In response, the body may produce protective bony deposits, known as bone spurs, as a way to help strengthen a weakened spinal bone or facet joint.

Dehydrated spinal discs can also lose their naturally rounded shape, sometimes pushing outward past their normal boundaries and into the spinal canal. When this occurs, spondylosis is said to involve a bulging disc. If the outer border of a bulging disc tears or breaks open, spondylosis is said to involve disc herniation, which can potentially allow some of a herniated disc’s inner gel-like substance to seep out into the spinal canal.

When present in the spinal canal, excess tissue like a bulging disc, herniated disc or bone spur can crowd this already limited space and overcrowding can sometimes create pressure that pinches the spinal cord or a nerve root. This type of nerve compression can cause a variety of symptoms, such as pain in the extremities, tingling, numbness, burning sensations and muscle weakness. Pain with moving and lifting or, in extreme cases, loss of bowel or bladder control (which requires emergency treatment), may also result from this debilitating condition. Spondylosis treatment is not always necessary, and when it is, any pain and discomfort associated with spondylosis can usually be managed effectively with the nonsurgical treatments.

Alternative options to spondylosis surgery

For many patients who are diagnosed with spondylosis, surgery may not be considered. That’s because there are many conservative options that can be very effective for addressing the symptoms of spondylosis. Some examples include:

  • A short rest. If necessary, limited rest for a period that extends no more than two or three days can sometimes be helpful for addressing spondylosis symptoms. But, it’s important to keep in mind that a prolonged period of immobility can actually do more harm than good. That’s because physical activity can increase blood flow and promote the circulation of fluids around the spine, which can help reduce inflammation.
  • Lifestyle changes. Eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight, practicing good posture and not smoking or drinking can promote good spinal health.
  • Physical therapy. Targeted stretches and low-impact exercises like biking or swimming can develop and strengthen the core muscles that support the spine, which can help relieve pressure on compressed nerve tissue in an area affected by spondylosis.
  • Hot and cold compresses. Applying a heating pad to a painful region of the spine can increase comfort and promote relaxation. On the other hand, applying a cold compress can reduce the flow of blood to an inflamed site, which in turn can help reduce swelling. Hot and cold therapy is generally most effective when used within the first few hours of a painful episode.
  • Medications. When taken as needed, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, such as pain medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as well as muscle relaxants, can help reduce spinal inflammation and relieve the associated pain.
  • Alternative treatments. Some patients experience spondylosis symptom improvement with nonsurgical treatments such as chiropractic care, heat massage, ultrasound therapy, yoga and acupuncture.

When to consider spondylosis surgery

If spondylosis pain and other symptoms continue to worsen despite several weeks or months of conservative treatment, a doctor may recommend seeing if you are a candidate for spine surgery. For most people who find themselves in this situation, traditional open spine surgery, which generally involves large incisions, a hospital stay of two to five days and a lengthy recovery period is not the only answer.

The surgeons at Laser Spine Institute perform minimally invasive spine surgery that is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck and back procedures.^ Our outpatient procedures use a less than 1-inch incision and muscle-sparing techniques in order to alleviate spondylosis symptoms while resulting in less bleeding. Since 2005, we have had the privilege of helping more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic conditions like spondylosis.

Through a no-cost MRI review* of your spine, our dedicated team will be able to determine your best surgical option to relieve your spondylosis symptoms. To learn more about the types of minimally invasive procedures we offer, contact us today. We are here to help guide you through your journey to wellness.