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Spondylosis

What Is Spondylosis?

Spondylosis (spinal osteoarthritis) is a degenerative disorder that may cause loss of normal spinal structure and function. Although aging is the primary cause, the location and rate of degeneration is individual. The degenerative process of spondylosis may impact the cervical, thoracic, and/or lumbar regions of the spine affecting the intervertebral discs and facet joints.

What are the types of spondylosis?

Lumbar spondylosis refers to any narrowing of the spinal canal. Cervical Spondylosis refers to a degenerative process of the cervical spine producing narrowing of the spinal canal producing compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots

What are the Causes and symptoms?

As people age, shrinkage of the vertebral disks prompts the vertebrae to form osteophytes to stabilize the back bone. However, the position and alignment of the disks and vertebrae may shift despite the osteophytes. Symptoms may arise from problems with one or more disks or vertebrae.

Osteophyte formation and other changes do not necessarily lead to symptoms, but after age 50, half of the population experiences occasional neck pain and stiffness. As disks degenerate, the cervical spine becomes less stable, and the neck is more vulnerable to injuries, including muscle and ligament strains. Contact between the edges of the vertebrae can also cause pain. In some people, this pain may be referred--that is, perceived as occurring in the head, shoulders, or chest, rather than the neck. Other symptoms may include vertigo (a type of dizziness) or ringing in the ears.

The neck pain and stiffness can be intermittent, as can symptoms of radiculopathy. Radiculopathy refers to compression on the base, or root, of nerves that lead away from the spinal cord. Normally, these nerves fit comfortably through spaces between the vertebrae. These spaces are called intervertebral foramina. As the osteophytes form, they can impinge on this area and gradually make the fit between the vertebrae too snug.

The poor fit increases the chances that a minor incident, such as overdoing normal activities, may place excess pressure on the nerve root, sometimes referred to as a pinched nerve. Pressure may also accumulate as a direct consequence of osteophyte formation. The pressure on the nerve root causes severe shooting pain in the neck, arms, shoulder, and/or upper back, depending on which nerve roots of the cervical spine are affected. The pain is often aggravated by movement, but in most cases, symptoms resolve within four to six weeks.

Cervical spondylosis can cause cervical spondylitic myelopathy through stenosis- or osteophyte-related pressure on the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal-- the area through the center of the vertebral column occupied by the spinal cord. Stenosis occurs because of misaligned vertebrae and out-of-place or degenerating disks. The problems created by spondylosis can be exacerbated if a person has a naturally narrow spinal canal. Pressure against the spinal cord can also be created by osteophytes forming on the inner surface of vertebrae and pushing against the spinal cord. Stenosis or osteophytes can compress the spinal cord and its blood vessels, impeding or choking off needed nutrients to the spinal cord cells; in effect, the cells starve to death.

With the death of these cells, the functions that they once performed are impaired. These functions may include conveying sensory information to the brain or transmitting the brain's commands to voluntary muscles. Pain is usually absent, but a person may experience leg numbness and an inability to make the legs move properly. Other symptoms can include clumsiness and weakness in the hands, stiffness and weakness in the legs, and spontaneous twitches in the legs. A person's ability to walk is affected, and a wide-legged, shuffling gait is sometimes adopted to compensate for the lack of sensation in the legs and the accompanying, realistic fear of falling. In very few cases, bladder control becomes a problem.

Diagnosis

Cervical spondylosis is often suspected based on the symptoms and their history. Careful neurological examination can help determine which nerve roots are involved, based on the location of the pain and numbness, and the pattern of weakness and changes in reflex responses. To confirm the suspected diagnosis, and to rule out other possibilities, imaging tests are ordered. The first test is an x ray. X rays reveal the presence of osteophytes, stenosis, constricted space between the vertebrae, and misalignment in the cervical spine--in short, an x ray confirms that a person has cervical spondylosis. To demonstrate that the condition is causing the symptoms, more details are needed. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography myelography, help assess effects of cervical spondylosis on associated nerve tissue and blood vessels.

An MRI may be preferred, because it is a noninvasive procedure and does not require injecting a contrast medium as does computed tomography myelography. MRIs also have greater sensitivity for detecting disk problems and spinal cord involvement, and the test allows the physician to create images of a larger area from various angles. However, these images may not show enough detail about the vertebrae themselves. Computed tomography myelography yields a superior image of the bones involved in cervical spondylosis. Added benefits include that it takes less time to perform and tends to be less expensive than an MRI. A good diagnosis may be reached with either a computed tomography myelography or an MRI, but sometimes complementary information from both tests is necessary. Nerve conduction velocity, electromyogram (EMG), and/or somatosensory evoked potential testing may help to confirm which nerve roots are involved.

Treatment

When possible, conservative treatment of symptoms is preferred. Conservative treatment begins with rest--either restricting normal activities to a less strenuous level or bed rest for three to five days. If rest is not adequate to relieve symptoms, a cervical orthosis may be prescribed, such as a soft cervical collar or stiffer neck brace to restrict neck movement and shift some of the head's weight from the neck to the shoulders. Cervical traction may also be suggested, either at home with the advice of a physical therapist or in a health-care setting.

Pain is treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. If these drugs are ineffective, a short-term prescription for corticosteroids or muscle relaxants may be given. For chronic pain, tricyclic antidepressants can be prescribed. Although these drugs were developed to treat depression, they are also effective in treating pain. Once any pain is resolved, exercises to strengthen neck muscle and preserve flexibility are prescribed.

If the pain is severe, a short treatment of epidural corticosteroids may be prescribed with discretion. A corticosteroid such as prednisone can be combined with an anaesthetic and injected with a long needle into the space between the damaged disk and the covering of the nerve and spinal cord. Injection into the cervical epidural space relieves severe pain that is not managed with conventional treatment. Frequent use of this treatment is not medically recommended and is used only if the more conservative therapy is not effective.

If pain is continuous and does not respond to conservative treatment, surgery may be suggested. Surgery is usually not recommended for neck pain, but it may be necessary to address radiculopathy and myelopathy. Surgery is particularly recommended for people who have already developed moderate to severe symptoms of myelopathy, although age or poor health may prohibit that recommendation. The specific details of the surgery depend on the structures involved, but the overall goal is to relieve pressure on the nerve root, spinal cord, or blood vessels and to stabilize the spine.

Alternative treatment

Alternative therapy is not meant to replace conventional medical treatment, but it can be a useful adjunct. Its main roles are to relieve tension, manage pain, and strengthen neck and back muscles.

Magnet therapy: The application of high strength rare earth magnets at the point of pain. The magnets should be applied continuously over a period of at least 3 weeks. Magnets can be applied in the form of straps, wraps,  insoles, jewellery, pillows, mattress covers.Massage is one way to relieve tension, and yoga provides the additional benefit of strengthening muscles. Chiropractic and acupuncture have been reported to relieve the pain associated with disk problems, although great care needs to be taken to avoid exacerbating them. Practitioners of the Alexander technique or the Feldenkrais method can provide instruction on correct posture and exercise that may help prevent further symptoms. Vitamin and mineral supplementation along with herbal therapies and homeopathy can help build and rebalance the weakened structure.

Prognosis

The gradual progression of cervical spondylosis cannot be stopped; however, it doesn't always cause symptoms. For the individuals who do experience problems, conservative treatment is very effective in managing the symptoms. Nearly all people with neck pain, approximately 75% of persons with radiculopathy, and up to 50% of people with myelopathy find relief through therapy alone. For the remaining people with radiculopathy or myelopathy, surgery may be recommended. Surgery is deemed successful in 70-80% of cases.

Prevention

Since cervical spondylosis is part of the normal aging process, not much can be done to prevent it. It may be possible to ward off some or all of the symptoms by engaging in regular physical exercise and limiting occupational or recreational activities that place pressure on the head, neck, and shoulders. The best exercises for the health of the cervical spine are noncontact activities, such as swimming, walking, or yoga. Once symptoms have already developed, the emphasis is on symptom management rather than prevention.

Don't Waste Another Minute Of Your Life Suffering With Pain. You Don't Have To. Act Now! Discover how these Back, Hip, Sciatica, Neck & Shoulder, Wrist & Hand, Knees & Thigh, Feet & Lower Leg, Insomnia and Depression and All Over Body Pain Treatments Can Get Rid Of All Your Pain And Improve Your Well Being...

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Don't Waste Another Minute Of Your Life Suffering With Pain. You Don't Have To. Act Now! Discover how these Back, Hip, Sciatica, Neck & Shoulder, Elbow, Wrist & Hand, Knees & Thigh, Feet & Lower Leg, Insomnia and Depression and All Over Body Pain Treatments Can Get Rid Of All Your Pain And Improve Your Well Being...

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