Spondylosis refers to a stiffening of the spine, degenerative changes in the vertebrae from age-related wear and tear affecting the spinal disks. As the disks dehydrate and shrink, signs of osteoarthritis develop, including bony projections along the edges of bones (bone spurs).
Spondylosis can occur in the lower back (lumbar), middle back (thoracic) and neck (cervical) sections of the spine. As you age, the bones and cartilage that make up your backbone and neck gradually develop wear and tear. These changes can include:
- Dehydrated disks. Disks act like cushions between the vertebrae of your spine. By the age of 40, most people's spinal disks begin drying out and shrinking, which allows more bone-on-bone contact between the vertebrae
- Herniated disks. Age also affects the exterior of your spinal disks. Cracks often appear, leading to bulging (herniated) disks—which sometimes can press on the spinal cord and nerve roots.
- Bone spurs. Disk degeneration often results in the spine producing extra amounts of bone in a misguided effort to strengthen the spine. These bone spurs can sometimes pinch the spinal cord and nerve roots.
- Stiff ligaments. Ligaments are cords of tissue that connect bone to bone. Spinal ligaments can stiffen with age, making your neck less flexible.
Neck or lower back pain is very common and can be caused by the slow breakdown of the bones from aging. Symptoms include pain and stiffness in the neck or lower back.
Riddle Hospital is certified by The Joint Commission for Spine Surgery.
Sometimes, cervical spondylosis results in a narrowing of the space needed by the spinal cord and the nerve roots that pass through the spine to the rest of your body. If the spinal cord or nerve roots become pinched, you might experience:
- Tingling, numbness and weakness in your arms, hands, legs or feet
- Lack of coordination and difficulty walking
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
Nonsurgical treatment with medication, soft collars, steroid or steroid and anesthesia-based injections, physical therapy are the first line of treatment. Surgery is reserved for people who have severe pain with progressive neurologic symptoms whose pain has not been relieved by any other method. If conservative treatment fails or if your neurological signs and symptoms—such as weakness in your arms or legs—worsen, you might need surgery to create more room for your spinal cord and nerve roots.
The surgery might involve:
- Removing a herniated disk or bone spurs
- Removing part of a vertebra
- Fusing a segment of the neck using bone graft and hardware