Degenerative spondylosis also called degenerative disk disease or osteoarthritis of the spine, is a condition that affects the spinal column. It creates changes in the disks that separate the vertebra in your back. It can lead to many symptoms and create disability. Understanding what happens with this disease will help you to choose the right form of treatment and manage your symptoms.
Your spinal column is made up of bones called vertebrae that are separated by disks. The disks provide a space between the vertebrae allowing your spine to move. With degenerative spondylosis this space becomes smaller. With age the disks begin to shrink naturally and the vertebrae may develop bony spurs or growths. See the picture above. These degenerative changes put pressure on the nerves around the spine. It can happen in the neck (cervical), mid back (thorasic) or low back (lumbar) areas.
Some degenerative changes that happen in the spine are a normal part of ageing. Bones change with wear and tear and the disks naturally lose fluid with age. In some people for reasons not well understood, this process is worse then others. Degenerative spondylosis can also occur after an injury, it can be genetic or secondary to another medical condition.
The symptoms you experience will vary based on where in the spine the degnerative spondylosis is, and the severity of the condition. There may be pain and stiffness in the back, or pain that radiates to other areas. There may be numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the arms and legs. You may lose range of motion in the spine and have trouble turning your head, or with twisting and bending motions. If the damage presses on nerves that send signals to the intestines, you may have problems with digestion and bowel movements. Some people with degenerative spondylosis have no symptoms at all and in others the symptoms are severe.
Degenerative spondylosis can be diagnosed by providing your physician with a complete medical history of your symptoms and a physical examination. In the later stages of this condition, X-rays can be used to see changes in the spinal column. MRI's are helpful to show damage to surrounding m,muscle or tissues. Your doctor will also do routine blood tests to rule out any other conditions that might be causing your symptoms.
The first stage in treatment is to see if your symptoms can be managed with non surgical techniques. Loosing weight to take pressure off the spine is essential. The right exercise program will help to improve your flexibility and strengthen the muscles in your back. Your physical therapist can help you to design the right program and show you what exercises to avoid. Inactivity is discouraged as this can lead to blood clots and muscle weakness. Ice and heat therapy can help, as well as massage and acupuncture. If your pain is severe, medication may be used. In extreme circumstances when you can no longer walk or the pain is unbearable, surgery can be tried to take pressure off the nerves.