Patient Journey: Spondylosis

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Spondylosis is a general term for age-related arthritis that affects the spinal column. It is a common condition among older adults, and many people have spondylosis and do not know it. For others, however, it can cause pain and stiffness in the neck or back. Fortunately, there are a range of treatment options for moderate and severe cases of spondylosis.

Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO) is New Jersey’s most comprehensive spine center. Here, CNSO’s medical team provides an overview of the patient journey for spondylosis diagnosis and treatment.

What Is Spondylosis?

Also known as osteoarthritis of the spine, spondylosis develops when the joints and intervertebral discs in the spine begin to wear out and break down. This can lead to conditions such as bone spurs or herniated discs. Although spondylosis can develop anywhere along the spinal column, it is most common in the neck and lower back.

Risk Factors for Spondylosis

Some of the risk factors for spondylosis are:

  • Age: Risk increases with age, and most patients diagnosed with spondylosis are over the age of 60.
  • Occupation: Patients who perform manual labor or have physically demanding jobs are more likely to experience wear and tear on the spine.
  • Lifestyle: A lack of physical activity can increase risk.
  • Medical history: Patients who have had spine surgery or a history of neck or back injuries have an increased risk of spondylosis.

Rates of spondylosis are similar among male and female patients.

Signs and Symptoms of Spondylosis

Spondylosis is common, and many patients with this condition will not notice any symptoms. For those who do, signs and symptoms can include:

  • Back or neck pain
  • Loss of flexibility or range of motion in the back or neck
  • Headaches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness, tingling, or pain that radiates into the arms or legs
  • Loss of balance or unsteady gait
  • Tinnitus
  • Popping, clicking, or grinding sensations in the spine

Severe cases of spondylosis can affect bladder or bowel function.

How Is Spondylosis Diagnosed?

If a patient is experiencing acute or chronic back, neck pain, or any of the other symptoms listed above, they should make an appointment with a neurosurgeon or orthopedic spine surgeon. The process of diagnosing spondylosis typically includes:

  • A review of the patient’s medical history and current symptoms
  • A physical examination
  • Diagnostic testing

During the examination, the provider may test the patient’s balance, muscle strength, or reflexes. They may manipulate the neck or back to check for muscle spasms, stiffness, or tenderness. They will likely also use imaging tests to check for changes in the spine or disc degeneration. This could include X-rays, CT scans, or an MRI.

What Are the Treatment Options for Spondylosis?

Spondylosis treatment will depend on the patient’s age, their overall health, and the severity of their symptoms. Mild cases of spondylosis can be treated with conservative care and pain management, such as:

  • Activity modification: Resting and avoiding certain activities can reduce pain. Wearing a soft cervical collar to immobilize the neck can help with cervical spondylosis.
  • Medications: Patients with spondylosis may take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or muscle relaxants.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can help a patient strengthen the muscles that support the spine, improve flexibility and posture, and implement ergonomic practices.
  • Hot or cold therapy: Applying heat or ice to the neck or back can soothe muscle tension and provide pain relief.

If the patient is still experiencing chronic pain and other symptoms after trying these treatments, their provider may recommend injection treatments. This is a quick, minimally invasive treatment that delivers an injection of steroid medication to reduce inflammation. The patient also may benefit from a medial branch nerve block, which can help identify facet joint pain.

In most cases, spondylosis can be treated without surgery. However, certain procedures may be recommended if a patient is experiencing pressure on their spinal cord or nerve roots. A neurosurgeon or orthopedic spine surgeon can perform spinal decompression treatment to remove bone or disc tissue that is compressing and irritating a nerve. These often are minimally invasive procedures, meaning they use smaller incisions and result in shorter recovery periods than traditional surgery. After decompression surgery such as a laminectomy or discectomy, many patients can go home from the hospital the following day.

Can Spondylosis Be Prevented?

While it may not be possible to prevent lumbar or cervical spondylosis, certain practices can help reduce a patient’s risk. These include:

  • Maintaining an active lifestyle
  • Practicing good posture when sitting or standing
  • Using proper lifting techniques and protective equipment at work
  • Stretching before exercising or playing sports, and using the right athletic equipment

Schedule an Appointment Today

As New Jersey’s most comprehensive spine care center, the team at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO) has extensive experience treating spondylosis and related conditions. Patients at CNSO receive personalized care from specialists who take the time to educate patients on their diagnosis and explain the most effective approach to treatment. Taking a conservative approach to care, CNSO uses noninvasive treatments where possible and recommends back surgery only if needed. With award-winning neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists, CNSO serves patients at multiple locations throughout northern New Jersey. To learn more or request an appointment, contact CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics