Do you suffer from a stiff neck that just won’t go away? You could have a common condition known as spondylosis, a chronic ailment that occurs in older adults. As we age, the bones and discs in our spine change, sometimes causing chronic pain and other symptoms. Continue reading to learn more about spondylosis and what you can do to manage your symptoms.
The definition of spondylosis is the wear and tear of cartilage and bones in the spine, that occurs as we age. It is a condition that occurs in up to 85% of people 60 years and older. While similar to some forms of arthritis, spondylosis is a unique disease with its own characteristics, described below.
Like the rest of your body, as you age your spine degenerates. Spinal spondylosis is another term for spine osteoarthritis. It can occur in the neck or any other part of the spine. Most cases of spondylosis can be treated with exercises, medication, or braces.
To understand what causes spondylosis you first need to have a good grasp of the anatomy of the spine. The spine is made up of 24 vertebrae. These vertebral bones are lined up to protect the spinal cord. In between each vertebra is an intervertebral disc, which acts as a shock absorber as you walk, run, or do just about anything!
Over time your intervertebral discs dry out and can bulge, reducing space between the vertebra. With less space, the cartilage that protects the facet joints wears away, causing joints to rub together and form bone spurs.
Spondylosis causes can usually be linked to one or more of the following factors.
Previous neck injury
Repetitive neck motions
Types of Spondylosis
Degenerative spondylosis can occur anywhere in the spine. It is categorized by location, cervical, thoracic, or lumbar. Read on to learn more about each type.
The most common type of neck arthritis is cervical spine spondylosis. Surprisingly, cervical spondylosis symptoms are not always obvious. Patients typically complain of a stiff or sore neck.
Your thoracic spine is the area behind your chest that lies in between the cervical and lumbar spine. If you have thoracic spondylosis you’ll have pain in the middle back when bending forward or backward.
Lumbar spine spondylosis occurs when the lumbar vertebrae develop bony growths. It does not typically cause pain and is sometimes a secondary finding when people seek treatment for lower back pain.
Spondylosis symptoms are not always obvious. You can have mild spondylosis and not have any signs or only have pain and stiffness in the neck or back. More severe spondylosis symptoms are rare and are indicative of advanced disease progression.
These advanced symptoms include:
Numbness or weakness in the hands or legs
Loss of bladder or bowel control
Inability to balance
Grinding noises when you turn your neck
If you have any of the above signs or symptoms immediately contact your doctor.
To diagnose spondylosis your doctor will complete a thorough health history and physical exam. He or she will check for strength and sensation in your hands and feet and if you have problems with your balance. If your doctor believes that you have spondylosis he or she will order additional testing.
A spondylosis x-ray will provide an excellent picture of the bones in your spine. If you have bone spurs or changes in your intervertebral spaces an x-ray will be a great diagnostic tool for your doctor.
An MRI will show changes in the soft tissues around your spine. Your muscles, nerves, and spinal cord will be seen through an MRI as your doctor looks for damages and disc changes.
A CT scan is more detailed than an x-ray and more cost effective than an MRI. The images will show bone spurs and provide a view of your spinal canal.
A Myelogram is a CT with contrast dye injected into your spinal canal. The contrast dye will highlight your spinal cord and nerves to illustrate any compression or nerve pinching.
An EMG tests the nerves that contract your muscles. This type of test will show your muscles during rest and activity and if your spinal nerves are working correctly.
In most cases, spondylosis can be treated without surgery. Due to its degenerative nature, lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spondylosis treatment is managed by learning techniques to reduce symptoms. Stopping the progression will greatly improve your quality of life and get you back to all the activities you love!
NSAIDs such as naproxen or ibuprofen reduce inflammation and decrease pain. If you are experiencing pain due to pinched nerve an NSAID will help relieve the swelling and discomfort.
Ice therapy will reduce swelling and inflammation in your neck and spine. The best ice packs for your neck are flexible to accommodate your unique needs. Heat will relax the muscles in your neck and improve circulation. A hot and cold wrap is a great multipurpose product that will comfort your spondylosis aches and pains.
The best way to take a break from your spondylosis symptoms while still leading a full and active life is to take advantage of some of the best neck, back, and posture braces around. Take a look at the options below for customized treatment you can count on.
Your doctor may recommend a cervical neck brace. These braces reduce the motion in your neck and allows the muscles to relax. If you wear it for too long however, the muscles in your neck can lose strength, so be sure to limit it to short periods of time.
If spondylosis runs in your family you should consider wearing a posture corrector. This device helps to maintain your back in a correct position. With the reduced strain on your spine from poor posture, you will reduce the chances of developing spondylosis.
If you suffer from lumbar spondylosis, a lower back brace will support your back and midsection. The brace is adjustable, allowing you to customize the support as you recover.
Steroid injections will reduce or eliminate pain and other symptoms for a short period of time. The steroid reduces inflammation but is not a permanent solution for spondylosis.
Spondylosis responds well to exercise and stretching. Gentle stretching of the back and neck will help alleviate pain and reduce stiffness. Do not do these movements if they are painful. Once you begin treatment, your doctor will likely suggest that you see a physical therapist for additional help.
A strong back means added protection against aches and pains. See how these two exercises can make the difference to your spondylosis.
Step 1: Stand straight up and tuck chin to chest.
Step 2: Slowly lower your hands down to the floor.
Step 3: Keep knees slightly bent.
Step 4: Slowly stand up straight.
Step 1: While standing place your hands on your lower back.
Step 2: Push hips forward while bending back.
Step 3: Slightly bend your knees while looking upward.
The neck and back are interconnected, meaning comprehensive strength and flexibility is needed to stay fit. Work both of these stretches into your routine for a noticeable improvement.
Range of Motion Stretch
Step 1: Look straight ahead.
Step 2: Turn your head to look over your right shoulder.
Step 3: Turn your head back to midline.
Step 4: Turn your head to look over your left shoulder.
Step 5: Hold each stretch for 10-15 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Side Bending Stretch
Step 1: Look straight ahead.
Step 2: Bend your ear down to your right shoulder.
Step 3: Bring your head back up to neutral position.
Step 4: Bend your ear down to the left shoulder.
Step 5: Hold each stretch for 10-15 seconds and repeat 5 times.
If you suffer from advanced progression of spinal spondylosis your surgeon will cover the best options for you. He or she may recommend removing overgrowth of bone spurs to decrease spinal cord and nerve compression. Rarely is surgery necessary and most cases of spondylosis respond to the treatments described above.
People with spondylosis can lead a full and active life, and the right treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms. Your recovery will depend on the severity of your condition, but most people who are referred to a physical therapist will receive therapy for six to eight weeks. If your spondylosis requires surgery your recovery will be dependent on the type of surgery you received.
Moving on After Spondylosis
Spondylosis is the wear and tear of the neck and spine that occurs as we age. However, you don’t have to let neck pain slow you down. There are many non-surgical treatment options that offer great results. Give your spine a little love with gentle stretches and exercises to help reduce symptoms and to keep your body in optimal health.
Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.
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