While anyone can suffer from back pain, risk of pain increases with age. When we are younger, back pain is most commonly the result of acute injury, but as we get older, the degenerative processes of aging cause wear and tear on our spines, increasing the occurrence of back pain.
One of the most common sources of back pain among older adults is spondylosis. Spondylosis is another name for osteoarthritis in the joints of the spine. When doctors refer to cervical spondylosis, they are talking about arthritis of the neck. Lumbar spondylosis refers to arthritis in the lower back.
Just as there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there is no cure for spondylosis. However, there are several treatment options available which can work to eliminate or reduce pain, restore or improve flexibility and mobility, and slow down the negative symptoms of the degenerative process.
If you are, or think you may, be suffering from arthritis in your back or neck, talk to a doctor about how to best treat your symptoms of spondylosis.
Causes of Spondylosis
Because spondylosis is caused by the unavoidable processes of aging and degeneration, it is one of the most common sources of neck and back pain. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) says that more than 85 percent of people aged 60 or older are affected by cervical spondylosis, or neck pain caused by arthritis.
The spine is made up of bones called vertebra, intervertebral discs that cushion the vertebra, and facet joints, which allow for flexibility of the spine. As a person gets older, these spinal components sustain everyday wear and tear. Spinal discs begin to lose height and can bulge, while the facet joints degenerate and lose cartilage. Without the cushioning and flexibility of the discs and joints, the bones of the vertebra begin to rub against each other.
Sometimes, this friction causes bone spurs, which attempt to give height to the spine, but often end up narrowing the space around the nerves and spinal cord, causing spinal stenosis.
The AAOS lists several risk factors for spondylosis, which include injury, occupational repetitive use strain, smoking, and genetics. However, the greatest risk factor for spondylosis is age. The condition is common among adults who have reached middle age or older.
Possible Spondylosis Treatments
In general, spondylosis is treated through non-surgical methods. Surgery is typically only recommended if the condition has caused compression of the spinal cord (spondylotic myelopathy) or if a herniated disc or bone is pinching a spinal nerve (radiculopathy).
Nonsurgical treatment typically includes physical therapy and use of medications including acetaminophen, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and muscle relaxers. However, if a patient’s symptoms do not respond well to the above treatments, steroid injections may be utilized to reduce pain. These include a cervical epidural block, a cervical facet joint block, and medial branch block with radiofrequency ablation.
Your doctor can help you determine which course of treatment may be right for you, and should explain the risks and benefits of each alternative.