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 affect the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), or lumbar (low back) regions of the spine.
“Spondylosis is part of the aging process, and the majority of individuals do not have symptoms associated with radiographic changes,” says Howard S. An, MD. “In the majority of cases, conservative treatment is successful.”
Potential Treatments for Spondylosis
While spondylosis is not reversible and there is no cure, several treatment options are available to help ease pain and stop further progression of the disease.
- Exercise: Core strengthening exercises can help provide stability to the spine during movement, support the vertebrae, and improve the distribution of biomechanical loads along the axial skeleton. Additionally, if you work in a sedentary environment, try taking micro-breaks for frequent, small exercise sessions. These mini workouts may help prevent the consistent physical stresses that can come from remaining in the same sitting position for long periods of time without a break.
- Physical therapy (PT): A significant step beyond regular exercise, physical therapy helps you focus more specifically on your individual needs. PT begins with an assessment by a physical therapist, who can identify areas of your body that will benefit from physical therapy exercises. They can help develop a custom Home Exercise Program (HEP) which you can carry out on your own, at times that are convenient for you. PT is collaborative and ongoing, and your therapist will monitor how successful the treatment is, changing the therapeutic course as needed.
- Prescribed medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs (called NSAIDs) often offer the most relief. Meloxicam, diclofenac, and naproxen are some of the most common examples. Muscle relaxers such as cyclobenzaprine can help to reduce the painful muscle spasms that can be triggered by spondylosis. In severe cases, opioid medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine might help for short-term relief. These might also be used temporarily while investigating other options, like surgery. Opioids are a poor option for ongoing treatment, however, both because of their addictive potential and because of their diminishing effectiveness for pain control.
- Steroid Injections: An epidural steroid injection can be helpful particularly for the relief of lower back pain that comes from a herniated disc, which is a condition that can arise out of spondylosis. The steroids are sent to the nerve root that’s inflamed, which can relieve pain.
- Alternative modalities: While the research on the effectiveness alternative therapies is limited, some people have experienced relief from their symptoms through treatments such as:
- Acupuncture: For some, this traditional Chinese treatment provides relief from various forms of chronic pain.
- Therapeutic massage: Massage therapy may provide some pain relief, but it can also be costly.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This treatment modality involves a device which uses electrodes to send electrical stimulation to the nerves.
- Surgery: If more conservative measures fail over time, a person’s quality of life is significantly impacted, or complications begin to arise, surgery may be recommended. Two common surgical procedures are decompression surgery (discectomy) and fusion surgery, where two adjacent vertebrae are fused together using plates and screws.
Spondylosis is sometimes discovered along with other complications or irregularities in the spine, and treatments for spondylosis may also be used for other conditions.