Spondylosis is an overall term for different degenerative changes in the back. These degenerative changes can involve osteoarthritis in the joints of the back and changes in the discs in the back. The discs can then become thinned out and develop reduced function. These changes can result in pain and reduced mobility. However, many people don’t complain about any symptoms. Spondylosis in the back and lumbar region can affect everyone, but is most common in people over 40 years of age.
Symptoms of spondylosis
Changes in the back due to spondylosis can be symptom-free. In those cases where there are symptoms, they typically involve back pain and stiffness, primarily in the neck and lower back. The symptoms can get worse if the back is strained inappropriately, for example, due to poor work posture. Spondylosis can also produce pain in connected parts such as the shoulders and the rear end.
Read more about the different conditions that can produce pain the lower back.
Causes of spondylosis
With all types of osteoarthritis, there is usually more than one reason why it develops. However, it is largely due to long-term overstraining of the joints. As we age, the elasticity in the discs between the vertebrae decreases, and this results in more strain on other structures, such as muscles, ligaments and the skeleton. The discs namely function as shock absorbers between the discs.
Exactly as with other types of osteoarthritis, the deterioration of the cartilage can result in stiffness and pain. The increased strain on the joints, which arises when the cartilage breaks down, can result in changes between the vertebrae which further reduce the mobility in the joints.
Read more about osteoarthritis.
As a general rule, a diagnosis of spondylosis is made based on an overall assessment of the patient’s medical history and clinical findings. With pronounced or long-term pain, confirming the diagnosis with imaging diagnostics can be considered. This is done either in the form of an x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging, MRI. In general, an MRI is performed. This is because the prevailing opinion within the Swedish healthcare system is that this method provides considerably more information. This is included in the guidelines from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare in terms of making the diagnosis. Many times, the x-ray findings don’t match the patient’s complaints because people are affected differently by different types of spondylosis in the back or lumbar region.
Treatment of spondylosis
Similar to osteoarthritis in other joints, there is no way to cure the actual osteoarthritis. However, the symptoms can be treated by alleviating pain and simplifying life for the affected person. The treatment that is used in most cases involves different types of training exercises. These are customized for each individual patient. This produces good results for the majority of people.
Which form of treatment works best is different from individual to individual. Customized activities and recovering after activity works well for many people. Non-prescription pain-relieving medications for those times when the pain is more severe work for other people. Going to a physiotherapist can help many people, and there are special training programs that strengthen the affected joints and reduce the strain on them, which can lead to less pain.
Other treatment methods for spondylosis
In the old days, back corsets were a classic way to relieve pain. These are no longer recommended because it means that the patient’s muscles are not fully engaged and can become weak. The current recommendation is to only use a back corset if needed, such as with particularly challenging activities. There are many varieties of surgical treatment for spondylosis. However, this isn’t a primary treatment because, in general, it involves major surgery such as fusing vertebrae, so-called arthrodesis. Training with a physiotherapist is recommended for relieving the patient’s symptoms and help the patient learn to live with spondylosis in the back or lumbar region.