What is Spondylosis?
Spondylosis comes from the Greek word ‘spondyl’ meaning backbone or vertebrae and ‘losis’ meaning problem. It refers to the wear and tear that occurs in the cervical spine (neck).
We often wonder about spondylosis vs spondylitis and often use these two terms interchangeably. However, both these conditions are very different from each other. While spondylosis occurs due to age-related degeneration of the joints and discs in your cervical spine, spondylitis is an inflammatory condition that affects one or more of your vertebrae and is arthritis of the spine.
What are the different types of spondylosis?
Depending on where it occurs there are two spondylosis types:
- Cervical spondylosis: This refers to spondylosis neck condition that occurs between the lower vertebral junctions i.e. between the fourth to the seventh vertebrae. This spondylosis neck condition is also known as cervical osteoarthritis or neck arthritis.
- Lumbar spondylosis: Another spondylosis type is that of the lumbar spine. This refers to the condition when osteoarthritis affects your lower back.
What Causes Spondylosis?
Some possible spondylosis causes include:
- Degeneration: Our entire spine is made up of 24 vertebrae (bones) and the cervical spine consist of seven vertebrae beginning at the base of the skull. Other parts of the spine include the nerves, discs, joints (intervertebral and facet), ligaments, and cartilage. As we grow older, these parts of the spine naturally get worn out and lose their volume resulting in spondylosis.
- Bone spurs: This is the abnormal bone growth that occurs as a result of the degeneration of the cartilage in the joints of the vertebrae. This causes the bone tissues to rub against each other leading to abnormal bone growths.
- Herniation: This occurs when your spinal discs develop cracks that leak out the internal cushioning material. The disks bulge out and press onto the surrounding tissues or nerves resulting in pain.
- Osteoarthritis: This is amongst the most common spondylosis causes, and is a progressive condition that degenerates your cartilage.
Who is at risk of spondylosis?
Besides older people, several risk factors increase one’s chances of getting spondylosis. These include:
- Neck injury
- Those who need to lift heavy weights constantly such as construction workers.
- People who are obese and inactive.
- Having a family history of spondylosis.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Spondylosis?
Spondylosis symptoms may be insignificant in the initial stages of this condition. However, they may grow gradually or occur suddenly depending on the severity of your spondylosis.
Some of the most common spondylosis symptoms include:
- Neck stiffness, soreness, or pain.
- Pain around the shoulder blades or fingers.
- Muscular weakness that makes it difficult to grasp objects or lift the arms.
- Pain in the back of the head.
- Tingling or numbness in the shoulders, arms, or legs.
- Clicking, grinding or popping sounds when you move your neck.
Some uncommon spondylosis symptoms, that need immediate medical attention, include:
- Loss of balance
- Lack of bowel or bladder control
How is spondylosis diagnosed?
In case any of these spondylosis symptoms become severe and start interfering with your daily activities, you need to seek medical attention and get a diagnosis done. A diagnosis is essential not just to initiate the correct line of treatment, but also to rule out other possible conditions and differentiate between spondylosis vs spondylitis, fibromyalgia, etc.
Here is how spondylosis is diagnosed:
- Physical examination: Your doctor will ask about your spondylosis symptoms and conduct a series of physical tests. These include checking your reflexes, gait, muscular strength, or trigger points.
- Imaging tests: In case you have severe spondylosis symptoms or if the physical examination doesn’t point to the root cause, your doctor may run some imaging tests. These include X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, EMG, or Myelogram.
How is Spondylosis Treated?
Spondylosis treatment is aimed at eliminating pain, preventing damage to your neck, and making your daily chores easier.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be advised:
- Massage, ice, and heat work as great spondylosis treatments and usually give immediate relief.
- Oral medications to reduce pain and discomfort. These may include muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections, anti-epileptic drugs in the case of pain caused by nerve damage, etc.
- Collar or brace to limit your neck movements and help your strained muscles relax.
- For more severe cases, surgery may be advised.
Which are some of the best exercises for spondylosis?
Spondylosis exercises are those that specifically aim at enhancing flexibility, adding movement, and strengthening your neck muscles.
Some of the best home workouts to try include:
- Lateral neck stretch: This is a very effective exercise to allow your neck muscles to relax by lengthening and stretching them.
- Sit upright while relaxing your shoulders.
- Gently move your left ear towards your left shoulder while bending your neck.
- Hold the position for 5-8 seconds when you feel a stretch in your neck.
- Get back into the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Shoulder forward raise: This spondylosis exercise is very effective for releasing tension and stiffness in the neck and shoulder region. When done regularly, this exercise also strengthens your muscles and prevents pain from recurring.
- Sit comfortably with your arms by your side.
- Keep your shoulder slightly raised towards your ears.
- Hold this position and lift one arm straight out in front of you.
- Repeat this on the other side.
- Seated leg raise: This is a very effective spondylosis exercise that strengthens your legs and core and ultimately relieves neck pain.
- Sit in a chair (without wheels) keeping your feet hip-width apart.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and pull your navel towards your spine gently.
- Place your hands on your thighs and raise one leg as high as possible.
- Bring back your leg to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
While spondylosis is a part of ageing, it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to suffer from its painful symptoms. By avoiding high-impact exercises, holding the neck in awkward positions for long, avoiding smoking, maintaining optimum body weight, and resting, you can enjoy a sturdier neck and spine at any age.