As we age, the ligaments and bones in the spine will naturally begin to weaken. The disks in between the bones will sometimes bulge (herniate) or become dry and weak. This can cause the spine to compress. The slick cartilage that helps bones move against each other begins to wear away. This can cause the bones to rub against each other. This irritation may cause bone spurs to grow. This process is called spondylosis [spon-duh-LOH-sis] or spinal osteoarthritis.
Spondylosis can affect any region of the spine including the neck (cervical spine), upper back (thoracic spine), or lower back (lumbar spine). Compression, a herniated disk, and bone spurs can cause pressure on the nerves in the spine. This causes pain and sometimes weakness in the arms and legs.
Spondylosis is common and may worsen as a person grows older. Patients typically report their first symptoms between ages 20 and 50.
Common symptoms of spondylosis include:
- Pain in the back or neck
- Stiffness after periods of inactivity
- Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, and legs
- Weakness in the arms and legs
- Trouble keeping your balance
If you have pain that doesn’t go away or weakness in your arms and legs, you should see your healthcare provider. These symptoms may be caused by spondylosis or another medical condition.
Spondylosis is a common condition associated with aging. Past injuries may also increase your risk of developing spondylosis. You may also have a higher chance of getting spondylosis if you:
- Have a family history of neck and back pain from spondylosis
- Smoke. Smoking is clearly linked to increased neck pain
- Work at a job that requires repetitive motion in your neck or back or overhead work
- Have depression or anxiety, which can increase the sensation of pain
A healthcare provider will do a physical exam and ask about your medical history, symptoms, and any previous injuries. Other tests may be recommended, including:
- Imaging tests. X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can provide detailed images of the spine.
- Myelography. This test is done using a CT scan. A physician injects dye into the fluid around the spinal cord. During the CT scan, the dye will show if any bone spurs exist and how they or any herniated discs are affecting your nerves.
- Electromyography (EMG). This test shows how the nerves in the body pass along signals from the spinal cord to the muscles.
There is no cure for spondylosis. Most people respond well to treatments. Those treatments may include one or a combination of the following:
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen.
- Stretching exercises and/or physical therapy
- Weight loss
- Caudal steroid injections
Spondylosis is an age-related condition, which makes it difficult to prevent. There are some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing spondylosis or spinal osteoarthritis:
- Exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes a day)
- Avoid injury to your neck and back
- Maintain a healthy weight
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