Spinal Osteoarthritis (Spondylosis)
An Overview of the Symptoms and Causes of Spondylosis
Osteoarthritis can affect your spine, especially your cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (low back). There’s a special name for spinal osteoarthritis: spondylosis. As with other types of osteoarthritis, spondylosis is a degenerative disorder. In the normal spine, the vertebrae and carilage, which cushions the bones as they move, are healthy and in alignment.
As we grow older, the joints in our bodies can wear out through use (and especially though overuse)—no surprise there, given how much we put our joints through.
Normal, healthy joints have a couple key parts: the bones (vertebrae, in the case of your spine) and cartilage that cushions the bones as they move.
Then, the bones will rub against each other, perhaps making movement painful and leading to changes in how well your joint works.
Spondylosis Causes: A Cascade of Events
The aging process and wear and tear on the spine are the main causes of spondylosis. Wear and tear can come from overuse; for example, if you have a job that requires a lot of heavy lifting, you can put too much strain on your spine.
Even though the cause of spondylosis seems rather simple, it’s helpful to understand the cascade of changes caused by spondylosis.
When the cartilage on your facet joints—every vertebra has two sets of facet joints that helpful facilitate movement—starts to wear down, the bones can start to rub together.
In an effort to stop this painful movement, the bones may create osteophytes, which are also known as bone spurs. This is the body’s attempt to stabilize the joint, but unfortunately, these bone spurs can make movement more difficult. Osteophytes can also pinch nerves in the spine, causing more pain.
Your intervertebral discs can also be involved in spondylosis. Your discs, which also cushion your spine’s movement and help you bend and twist, can start to wear out, too, as you grow older or as you put a lot of strain on your spine.
If your discs wear out, it’s usually called degenerative disc disease, which is a separate spinal condition from spondylosis, but they are closely linked. If, for example, an intervertebral disc starts to thin, it can change the way your facet joints work—causing the cartilage to wear out and leading to spondylosis.
Heredity also plays a role in spondylosis.
Symptoms of spondylosis tend to come on gradually as your spine changes. You may notice movement is more difficult or painful.
You may feel that your back is “stiff,” especially in the morning or after you’ve been sitting for awhile.
If a bone spur is pressing on a nerve, you may have pain that travels away from your spine. For example, if it’s pinching a nerve in your neck, you may have pain down your arm.