Spondylosis is one of the most common causes of spine pain and stiffness that affects the over 50s. Everyday wear and tear damages your spinal joints and you are more likely to develop the condition as you age. These age related changes in the spine vary from one person to the next, as do the severity of the symptoms of stiffness and pain.
Research suggests that 95% of people will develop spondylosis by the age of 65. But only some people will have problems with the condition.
Depending on the region of the spine that is affected, the condition is further categorised as follows:
- Cervical spondylosis – where the condition affects the neck.
- Thoracic spondylosis – in the mid back
- Lumbar spondylosis – in the lower back
Spinal osteoarthritis is another term used for spondylosis. Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis caused by wear and tear and it can affect any joint in the body.
What causes spondylosis?
The spine or backbone is a column of bones known as vertebrae. The bones of the vertebrae are separated by discs which cushion and support them. As you get older the discs tend to dry out and become susceptible to damage.
As a way of compensating for the wearing of the joints, your body produces small lumps or spurs of extra bone to stiffen the spine. The formation of these spurs and the loss of the rubbery tissue in the discs combine to make the spine stiffer. There are several risk factors, apart from age, that may increase the chance of developing spondylosis. These include:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Leading a sedentary life
- Lack of exercise
- Previous injury or surgery to the spine
- Repeatedly carrying heavy weights
- Severe arthritis
- Psychological ill health such as anxiety and depression
What are the symptoms of spondylosis?
Whilst most people don’t experience any symptoms, some people suffer continuous disabling pain. In some cases the changes to the spine can affect the nerves leading to numbness, tingling and weakness. In neck spondylosis this can affect the arms, hands and fingers. In lumbar spondylosis, the legs may be affected.
Other symptoms can include:
- Spinal joint pain or tenderness that intermittently returns
- Spinal stiffness, especially in the morning
- Muscle spasm and pain
- Trouble walking due to loss of balance
- A grinding or popping sensation in the spine
What are the treatment options for spondylosis?
Most cases of spondylosis don’t need treatment as they produce only occasional mild pain and stiffness. General advice includes taking over the counter pain killers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen and keeping physically active. If the pain is persistent or particularly bad, your doctor may prescribe a higher dose of painkiller such as codeine.
They may also recommend a steroid injection to relieve the pain by reducing the inflammation. Other drugs such as muscle relaxants or nerve pain drugs are sometimes used. Surgery is usually only considered as a last option and may involve removal of the disc or piece of bone that is pressing on the nerve. An artificial replacement disc may be inserted.
What can you do to help?
There is no cure but the good news is that there are lots of ways to make your life easier by the correct management of your condition. Here are some ways you can help:
- Respect your pain – rest when your pain gets too much
- Avoid sudden movements or jarring your spine
- Avoid over stressing joints with prolonged weight bearing activities such as lifting weights or jogging
- Lose weight as the less you weigh, the less your spine has to support
- When pain allows, try to exercise by walking, swimming or cycling
- Try core stability exercises to strengthen your spine
- Use a TENS machine to help relieve your pain in the comfort of your own home
If you would like further help or advice, please click on the link to Versus Arthritis.
Do you or any of your loved suffer from spondylosis? What do you find helpful in easing your pain and stiffness?
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