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Osteoarthritis (Spondylosis)

Osteoarthritis which affects your spine is called spondylosis.

Common Signs & Symptoms

  • Gradual onset of stiff and painful joints which is persistent or recurring
  • Stiffness is especially worse when you wake and after being still for a time and eases with movement
  • Your surrounding muscles may be tight or sore
  • It's often worse with moving from sitting to standing or bending backwards.
  • Muscles can feel tired (fatigue) giving the sensation 'heaviness'
  • Your joints may feel unstable or 'wobbly'
  • Clicking in your joints may occur more often or movement can cause a grating sensation (crepitus)
  • You may feel locked or stuck in one position
  • Pain may refer into your buttocks and upper leg

Description

Osteoarthritis which affects your spine is called spondylosis. Spondylosis usually begins gradually due to wear and tear, age and trauma causing degeneration of joints between your spine. Your spine is made up of large bones called vertebrae which are cushioned by cartilage and (rather like your car) oiled by fluid, with Spondylosis this cartilage is worn down allowing your bones to rub together and reducing the ability of your joints to slide and glide on one another.

Your body tries to repair itself and this can lead to the growth of bony spurs which narrows the spaces where your nerves exit the spine. This narrowing can be the cause of pain or pins and needles felt in your buttock or legs and in severe cases, muscles in your legs may become weak or waste.

Advice & Treatment

Your GP will normally refer you for an x-ray to confirm there are changes to your spine.

Treatment is aimed at reducing pain, improving core muscle control and mobility of your spine using exercise and stretches. Mobility is important to maintain – by keeping your spine as mobile as possible it will help to keep your joints as health as possible and slow down further deterioration.

  • Medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs may help to settle any flare ups – just speak to your pharmacist or doctor to find the best ones for you especially if you are taking other medication. If this is not settling your pain, your doctor may prescribe something stronger. The important thing is to follow your doctor’s instructions exactly when taking any medication.
  • Exercise: The best kind of exercise is low-impact, such as swimming or biking. Pilates is especially helpful to improve the muscles that support your spine, which can reduce your pain. Stretches and yoga can also increase your flexibility, which is something you can gradually lose in osteoarthritis.
  • Weight loss: Extra weight puts more strain on your spine, so losing weight can help to decrease your spondylosis pain.
  • Complementary and alternative treatments: Treatments such as acupuncture and massage have been shown to be effective in pain relief.
  • Physical therapy: As your joints lose their slide and glide, manual treatments such as mobilisation and manipulation to your joints can help to restore further mobility. A physiotherapist will also address other problems such as muscle imbalance or changes in your biomechanics should you be suffering these conditions in addition to your spondylosis.
  • Spinal injections and surgery: These are performed less frequently. Epidural steroid injections or surgery to improve your spinal stability may be suggested, depending on your individual circumstances. It is always advisable to approach your problem using non-surgical treatment first.
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