Spondylosis is an age-related osteoarthritic degeneration of the spine that typically occurs in the neck or lower back. It’s actually very common, and around 90% of people over the age of 65 will show evidence of spondylosis on x-ray, although the majority of these people won’t experience any symptoms.
Spondylosis affects both the vertebrae and intervertebral discs. Intervertebral discs sit between each pair of vertebra, acting as a cushion and absorbing stress and shock. For most of our lives these discs have a thick, jellylike consistency, but as we age these discs begin to lose their fluid, shrink and become stiff.
As this dehydration happens, bone spurs begin to grow on the vertebrae as the body tries to stabilize the spine in response to the decreased ability of the intervertebral discs to perform the cushioning action. These bone spurs can cause stiffness and pain, and/or a crunching sound as the discs rub against each other.
Sometimes the bone spurs interfere with nerves, or the spondylosis results in a narrowing of the center of the vertebra itself, causing the space needed by the spinal cord to shrink. This shrinkage can result in weakness, tingling, or numbness in the hands, feet or legs; difficulty walking due to a lack of coordination; and/or a loss of bladder or bowel control.
Even though spondylosis is an age-related degeneration, there are risk factors that can contribute to an earlier or more significant onset including; a previous injury such as whiplash, arthritis in other joints, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, or work requiring repetitive motion and/or poor ergonomics.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of spondylosis, we recommend you make an appointment to see your doctor for a complete diagnosis and treatment options, which can include drugs for pain relief, lifestyle changes such as increased exercise and stretching, or surgery in extreme cases.