Spondylosis refers to age-related changes in spinal bones (vertebrae), cartilage and discs in any part of the spine. It’s also known as osteoarthritis of the spine, arthritis of the spine and back arthritis.
Spondylosis can put pressure on spinal nerves where they join the spine (nerve roots). In advanced cases, bones, discs or other tissues can press on the spinal cord. Timely treatment is important because spondylosis tends to worsen over time, though it doesn’t always cause symptoms.
- Aging is a major risk factor. By age 60, most people have signs of cervical (neck) spondylosis that can be seen on an X-ray. Being over 40 is a risk factor for lumbar (lower back) spondylosis.
- Past neck injury, often years before. Preventing neck injury, for example by using the right equipment and techniques in sports, may reduce your risk.
- Severe arthritis
- Past spine surgery
- Neck pain (may spread to the shoulder or down the arm)
- Neck stiffness that gets worse over time
- Loss of sensation or abnormal sensations in the shoulders, arms or (rarely) legs
- Weakness of the arms or (rarely) legs
- Headaches, especially in the back of your head
Thoracic (middle back) spondylosis
- Moving the spine forward and back often causes pain.
- Bending backward causes pain in the middle back.
- Pain and stiff back in the morning
- Sitting for a long time causes pain and other symptoms.
- Pain gets worse with repeated movements, such as lifting and bending.
Less common symptoms include loss of balance or loss of bladder or bowel control.
If you have mild or moderate symptoms, you can usually be treated without surgery, an approach the OHSU Spine Center favors whenever possible.
- Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs; narcotic medications or muscle relaxants; and medications for chronic pain, including phenytoin, carbamazepine or tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, can help.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can offer treatments and exercises to ease pain and movement.
Surgery may be recommended if you have severe spondylosis, if other treatments didn’t help or if severe pain and weakness limit your mobility.
- Cervical posterior foraminotomy: This surgery removes bone or parts of a diseased or herniated disc to relieve pain.