Spondylosis is a term used to describe bony overgrowths of the vertebrae which form the spinal column. It has previously been known as spinal osteoarthritis although this is not technically accurate.

Symptoms of Spondylosis

In most cases there are no symptoms of spondylosis at all. Some patients may experience stiffness and pain first thing in the morning which may radiate into the buttocks or back of the thighs. When present in the neck, pain and stiffness in the neck, headaches and pain radiating into the arms may be present. Pain can vary in severity from day to day although is often worse when leaning backwards or to the side due to the location of the osteophytes.

What is Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is a term used to describe bony overgrowths of the vertebrae (which form the spinal column). It has previously been known as spinal osteoarthritis although this is not technically accurate.

Spondylosis is a degenerative condition, which is most common in the lumbar (lower back) region, although it can occur in the neck and upper back too. The reason for this is that the lower back is under the most pressure during every day movements, due to the weight of the rest of the spinal column above it.

In many cases, spondylosis will not cause any symptoms and people will not be aware of it's presence unless they have to have a scan for another reason. Pain and other symptoms are only present if the bony overgrowths are causing irritation to other structures.

This may be spinal ligaments, nerves or the intevertebral disc. Where nerves are being irritated by the bony growths, pain may radiate into other areas, or causing tingling or numbness into the legs (or arms for cervical (neck) spondylosis).

These bony growths (known as osteophytes) develop due to the body's attempts to heal itself, following damage to the bones. This often happens because the intevertebral discs (between the vertebrae) become thinner with age, resulting in the bones rubbing together, especially with high impact and extreme movements. Osteophytes most frequently grow at the front (anterior) or sides (lateral) of the vertebrae, and at either the top or the bottom of the bone. This is where damage is most frequent.

In more serious cases and those left untreated, the condition may progress to become Spinal Stenosis - where the osteophytes grow within the spinal canal, putting pressure on the spinal cord.

Spondylosis treatment

  • Treatment of spondylosis focuses on managing the condition and improving the symptoms. The only way to treat the cause of the condition is via surgery to remove the osteophytes, however this is rarely performed.
  • Treatments such as heat (hot packs, warm baths etc) and massage may be beneficial to ease acute episodes of pain. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen may be recommended by your Doctor to also help ease the pain. For those suffering with long-term back pain, a back support may help.
  • Posture should be a primary concern. Poor lumbar and pelvic posture can exacerbate the problem. Ensure that when sitting for long periods, good posture is maintained. A lumbar roll can help with this.
  • In the long-term, a rehabilitation programme should be undertaken to ensure good core strength and flexibility. It is very common in the area of the lower back and pelvis for muscle imbalances to develop. This basically means that some muscles are short and tight, whereas others are long and weak. Correcting these imbalances greatly helps with posture and so back pain. With lower back pain it is common to have tight hamstrings and hip flexors and weak glutes and abdominal muscles.
  • Core strength and stability is another area which may help with back pain. The core muscles are deep muscles such as the transversus abdominus and pelvic floor muscles which help to stabilise the spine. In many cases of back pain, the core muscles are not functioning correctly and so the back is left unsupported. Core strengthening exercises and classes such as Pilates can really help with this.

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