Spondylosis is a general term for several conditions that cause wear and tear or age-related spine degeneration. The spine consists of a series of discs called the vertebrae; between each bone lies small discs that cushion the spine and give it stability.
Usually, these discs are hydrated, but they lose the hydration and shrink as you age. When this happens, the vertebrae may rub against each other, causing signs of osteoarthritis such as born spurs. All these degenerative changes are forms of Shrewsbury spondylosis which tend to worsen with age.
What are the symptoms of spondylosis?
Most people with degenerative changes of the spine experience no symptoms, but when they occur, symptoms often include pain and stiffness in the neck and back. Sometimes spondylosis can cause spinal stenosis – the narrowing or constriction of the spinal spaces, where nerve roots pass to the rest of your body.
When this happens, the nerve roots or the spinal cord get compressed, causing other symptoms such as weakness, tingling, and numbness in your arms, legs, hands, or feet. Severe spinal stenosis can cause urinary incontinence, a condition whereby urine leaks involuntarily.
Causes of spondylosis
Spondylosis usually occurs as you age, when the bones and cartilage in your spine wear and tear. Examples of degenerative changes that occur include:
The exterior of the spinal discs, called the annulus, may wear or tear as you age or due to an injury. The nucleus may push through the outer membrane into the spinal cord when this happens. Herniated discs can press on nerve roots, causing pain, numbness, and weakness in the muscles served by the pressed nerves.
Although a disc may bulge anywhere along the spine, herniated discs are common in the neck and lower back region. Sometimes you may have one or more herniated discs without symptoms.
Discs are small, pillow-like cushions between each vertebra in the spine. They align the spine and act as shock absorbers. Usually, discs are hydrated, but they tend to dry out and shrink as you grow older.
When discs lose hydration, they allow more bone contact between the vertebrae, causing symptoms such as bone spurs. These bone spurs are small bony projections that the spine produces in a misguided effort to strengthen the spine. Sometimes bone spurs can press on nerve roots in the spinal space, causing pain and other symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.
Your spinal ligaments can also stiffen as you age, causing neck or lower back stiffness.
Risk factors for spondylosis
- Age. Spondylosis is common among older adults because wear and tear are normal as you age.
- Smoking. Smoking constricts blood vessels, limiting oxygen and nutrient supply in your spine. Consequently, the spine degenerates, causing spondylosis.
- Occupation. People with jobs that require repetitive motions such as bending or a lot of overhead work strain their spine and are at risk of degenerative changes.
- Genetic factors. Some families are predisposed to spondylosis; members in such families are more likely to develop spondylosis than others.
If you need to learn about treatment options for spondylosis, consult your doctor at the Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine.