What is Spondylosis?
This condition is a degeneration of the spine that can affect the spine at any level, resulting in pain and discomfort that can grow worse over time.
What causes Spondylosis?
This condition most commonly results from normal wear and tear associated with aging.
The degeneration process usually begins with the discs. As the body gets older, the spinal discs begin to dry out, lose their elasticity and collapse. The thinning of the discs places stress on the facet joints and the ligaments that hold the vertebrae together. These structures weaken, allowing the vertebrae to become overly mobile.
Causes Of Pain
The vertebrae may begin to shift out of proper alignment and rub against each other. Bony growths called bone spurs may form on the irritated vertebrae. The vertebral shifting and the excess bone growth can reduce the space through which the nerve roots travel, and the nerve roots or the spinal cord can become painfully compressed.
Symptoms: Cervical Spondylosis
Degeneration in the cervical spine may cause neck, shoulder and arm pain. It may also result in loss of fine motor skills, weakness, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs.
Symptoms: Thoracic Spondylosis
Degeneration in the thoracic spine may cause pain in the chest and upper abdomen. It may also result in weakness, numbness and tingling in the legs.
Symptoms: Lumbar Spondylosis
Degeneration in the lumbar spine may cause pain in the back, buttocks, or legs, with possible numbness, and muscle weakness that may be worsened by activities such as lifting, bending, twisting, or sitting.
How is spondylosis diagnosed?
Since spondylosis isn’t a specific condition, Dr. Trujillo looks to find the specific source of your pain. This starts with a physical exam and taking a detailed history of the symptoms you’ve been having. He’ll check your range of motion when bending forward, backward, and side-to-side. He’ll look for an abnormal curvature in your spine. He’ll feel your spine for any tender spots, muscle tightness, spasms, bumps, or areas of inflammation.
He’ll most likely use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computer tomography (CT) scans to help pinpoint the areas where the pain is originating. These imaging technologies allow him to see the soft tissues, such as the discs and the nerve roots. We also use x-rays to gauge the degeneration of your vertebrae.
Treatment options include anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, rest, lumbar supports, and spinal injections. In severe cases, surgery may be needed.
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Can spondylosis be prevented?
Spondylosis is spinal osteoarthritis, and osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. That’s because it is “wear and tear” arthritis caused by, well, simply living. Over 80 percent of people over the age of 40 will show evidence of spondylosis on x-rays. According to the Arthritis Foundation, spinal arthritis may affect as many as three-quarters of people over the age of 60.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. These are some things you can do to help ward off the effects of spondylosis:
- Stay active — It doesn’t have to be some killer workout regimen, just walking, moving, doing yard work, riding a bike, anything but sitting around all day.
- Eat better — More fruits and vegetables. Less fat. Less red meat. More fish. You do need protein, so everything in moderation.
- Hit your ideal weight — It’s hard when our metabolism slows to a snail’s crawl as we get older, but losing weight is simply a numbers game: burn more calories than you take in. Obesity is a good way to ruin your later years in life.
- Reduce stress — Stress is tied to spondylosis. Try and mitigate it as much as possible.
- Stop smoking — If you do, it’s time to stop. Smoking cigarettes is directly linked to osteoarthritis, as it impedes blood flow, which helps keep our joints healthy.
When is spine surgery necessary to treat spondylosis?
Nerve compression is the key here. Dr. Trujillo is a pain specialist, and he can definitely help you manage your pain, but sometimes nerve compression by something like a herniated disc is such that the pain cannot be helped without surgery. This is necessary to remove the bone spur or disc that is pushing on the nerve.
Surgery is definitely the last resort when it comes to treatment. Most patients do not require surgery with spondylosis, but it can be necessary if all other treatments aren’t relieving the pain. This could include a variety of procedures, from laminectomy (to remove part of the lamina on the back of the vertebra) to a foraminotomy (where the foramen is enlarged to open space for the exiting nerve root). A discectomy could also trim away the herniated portion of a spinal disc that is pushing on a nerve. In most cases, these surgeries can be performed with minimally invasive techniques, making for faster recovery.
What happens if spondylosis is left untreated?
As mentioned above, just about all people over 60 have some degree of spondylosis or osteoarthritis. It’s just the wear and tear from a lifetime. But if you have chronic pain, you should seek treatment with Dr. Trujillo to relieve your pain. That’s because chronic pain is assuredly impacting your quality of life.
If you don’t seek treatment, at least exercise more, eat less, eat better, and sit around far less. Doing those things could help keep your condition from worsening.
But we have options, from radiofrequency ablation to spinal cord stimulation, to help you overcome, or at least manage, your pain. Living with untreated pain really isn’t necessary.
How long does surgery for spondylosis take?
Spinal surgeries take various lengths of time because there are many different procedures to address nerve compression. In some of these, the surgeon enters from the front, the anterior. In others, they are posterior entries. The difficulty and duration of the surgery can depend on the location of the spinal compression and whether issues, such as bone spurs that have formed on the inside of the spinal canal, make the procedure more complicated.
Are there foods to avoid when you have spondylosis?
As discussed above, a balanced diet is a key to better managing spondylosis. That includes more fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins from nuts and beans, omega-3 fatty acids from sources such as salmon, dairy products for bone health, and as much non-processed food as possible.
What to avoid? That’s easy. Fast food. Foods are high in saturated fats or added sugars. Fried foods. Soft drinks. Highly processed foods such as sweetened breakfast cereals, candy, chicken nuggets, packaged soups, and side dishes.
People think it’s impossible to avoid highly processed foods like bread. True. Not everyone is going to be able to bake their own bread every couple of days. Yeah, but you can cook your own meals, and that’s a big way to avoid processed foods.