Spondylosis: Information & spondylosis specialists

Leading Medicine Guide Editors
Leading Medicine Guide Editors

One possible reason for back pain is the wear and tear known as spondylosis. The term spondylosis covers various diseases of the spine. The characteristic feature of spondylosis is bony spurs that form on the vertebral body. Spondylosis is a wear and tear disease of the spine and draws attention to itself with neurological symptoms. 

Learn everything you need to know about spondylosis and find selected spondylosis specialists here.

ICD codes for this diseases: M47

Selected spondylosis specialists

Brief overview:

  • What is spondylosis? A collective term for wear and tear diseases of the spine with neurological symptoms that can also lead to back pain.
  • Types: Medically, there are five forms of spinal damage, which are differentiated by the type of spinal damage. 
  • Causes: The loss of flexibility of the intervertebral discs due to increasing age means that areas of the vertebrae can rub against neighbouring vertebrae.
  • Symptoms: The symptoms depend on the location of the disease. Back pain radiating to the arms and legs, sometimes neck pain, neurological symptoms of the peripheral nervous system.
  • Prognosis: Most people develop this condition as they get older, but symptoms do not always show up.
  • Diagnosis: The disease can be easily seen on an X-ray, CT scan or MRI. A blood sample is also often taken.
  • Treatment: Surgery is considered when conservative therapies do not bring about any improvement. If the spondylosis is due to a pre-existing condition such as diabetes, this must also be treated. Pain management is also usually an element of the treatment.
  • Prevention: Strengthening the back muscles through targeted training, a healthy posture, normal body weight.

Article overview

What is spondylosis? 

Spondylosis is a collective term for several wear and tear diseases of the spine. This includes

  • arthrosis of the spine,
  • spondylarthrosis or
  • the facet syndrome.

Typical of spondylosis is additional bone growth in particularly stressed areas of the spine – known as spondylophytes. Spondylosis can affect any part of the spine, i.e. the cervical spine, thoracic spine or lumbar spine. 

Rückenschmerzen Wirbelsäule
With back pain, the reasons often lie directly in the spine © CLIPAREA.com / Fotolia

Different forms of spondylosis

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) lists spondylosis under the code M47. It is divided into five forms based on the clinical picture.

The type of spinal damage determines the category of spondylosis:

  • Anterior spinal artery compression syndrome and vertebral artery compression syndrome: The deformed spinal column exerts pressure on the corresponding blood vessel exerts. When the nerve cells of the spinal cord do not receive sufficient nutrients and oxygen as a result, they suffer damage and die. Doctors call this damage to the spinal cord myelopathy.
  • Spondylogenic compression of the spinal cord: The changes in the spine directly affect the spinal cord. The result is spinal canal stenosis.
  • Spondylosis with radiculopathy: The spondylosis damages the nerve root here. Radiculopathy is also known as root syndrome for this reason.

There are also other spondyloses without myelopathy or radiculopathy. Here there are no neurological symptoms or discomfort.

Causes of spondylosis: Wear, deformation and metabolic disorders

The spine is subjected to a lot of stress in the course of a person's life. With increasing age, the flexibility of the intervertebral discs between the vertebral bodies decreases. The intervertebral discs serve as a buffer for the vertebral bodies.

This allows superimposed vortices to approach and even touch each other. The so-called facet joints of the spine are affected first. This gives rise to the facet syndrome. You can see in the video how this wear and tear disease develops:

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The wear and tear on the spine causes it to lose stability. Additional bone growth should re-strengthen and stabilise the spine. The body therefore forms spondylophytes, i.e. small bone spurs.

At the same time, this additional bone mass takes up more space. Under certain circumstances, the spondylophytes can press on the

  • Nerves,
  • Blood vessels and 
  • the spinal canal

drücken. Pain and neurological discomfort are the result. 

Wirbelsäule Facettengelenk
The vertebral bodies touch at the facet joints – in spondylosis, the bony contact surfaces increase © bilderzwerg / Fotolia

In some cases, the spondylophytes that grow on different vertebrae join together. This creates a cohesive bony structure that restricts the mobility of the spine. When the spine is deformed in this way, doctors speak of spondylosis deformans.

In addition, there are special forms that arise differently. Spondylosis hyperostotica, for example, is due to a metabolic disorder. A potential cause of spondylosis hyperostotica is diabetes.

Spondylosis symptoms

Depending on which areas of the vertebrae are affected by spondylosis, different symptoms occur. The signs of wear and tear typically first manifest themselves with mild symptoms and pain. More severe complaints only appear gradually.

Back pain is common with spondylosis. The pain may also occur in the neck or radiate to the arms and legs.

Spondylosis affects the spinal cord and peripheral nerves to some extent. If the spinal nerves or spinal cord are damaged, other neurological symptoms typically occur:

  • Sensory disturbances, for example tingling in the arm
  • Loss of control over bladder and bowel
  • Numbness
  • Unexpected weakness that is not explained by the muscles
  • Movement disorders, e.g. gait disorders, and paralysis

Prognosis and possible progression of spondylosis

In many adults, the first signs of wear and tear on the spine and intervertebral discs become apparent at an early age. They progress with age.

The overwhelming majority of people over the age of 65 have bone spurs on their vertebrae. But only a portion of those affected suffer from

  • Back pain,
  • Movement restrictions or
  • other symptoms.

Spondylosis often remains undetected and asymptomatic.

Spondylosis sometimes leads to other problems. Spondyloses with radiculopathy or myelopathy burden the patient with neurological symptoms and nerve pain. In the course of the disease, muscle tension is also possible, which causes pain.

The muscle tension often arises because of a protective posture that sufferers adopt due to spondylosis.

Wirbelsäule Röntgenuntersuchung
The X-ray shows changes in the spine © luxpainter / Fotolia

Diagnosis and treatment of spondylosis

A doctor usually carries out

on which the condition of the spine can be seen. In this way, other possible diseases can also be ruled out.

Further tests may be required, for example to check for any nerve deficits. The doctor often also takes a blood sample to rule out inflammation as a cause.

An operation can relieve the spinal cord, which may be at risk, or help to make the spine more mobile again. A doctor will only consider surgery if other treatment options have already been exhausted or do not seem sufficient in the individual case. The exact procedure is different for each patient.

If the cause of the pain is facet syndrome, injections prove to be an effective pain therapy. The video shows how a facet infiltration works:

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In some cases, the surgeon removes the offending spondylophytes and widens the spinal canal. This is how he fixes the nerve compressions. The surgeon can also replace the vertebra with a prosthesis.

In other cases, the doctor only corrects the position of the vertebra. The videos inform you about the surgical options:

Please accept additional external content to watch this video.

Please accept additional external content to watch this video.

Sometimes spondylosis can be traced back to diabetes or another metabolic disorder. Then the treatment of this underlying disease plays an important role.

Often, if you have spondylosis, you will be given painkillers to relieve the symptoms.

Reduce risks and prevent spondylosis: Movement in balance

The best time for preventive measures is when you do not yet suffer from spondylosis. Typical signs of ageing, such as fatigue of the intervertebral discs, cannot be completely prevented. Nevertheless, something can be done for back health.

This way you can reduce the risk of spondylosis:

  • Strengthen your muscles – make sure to train your back and abdomen evenly to avoid imbalances. These put strain on the spine due to unbalanced stability and different tensile forces.
  • Don't forget to stretch! Strong and supple muscles naturally support the body.
  • Make sure you have a healthy posture – when sitting or standing, but also when carrying heavy objects.
  • An ergonomically designed desk also helps to maintain back health for longer.
  • A healthy body weight means relief for the spine and joints.

If your back pain does not improve over three to six weeks, consult a doctor.

In many cases, a physiotherapist helps patients improve their back health. The physiotherapist takes into account the specifics of the disease. Not every type of sport is suitable for training the back muscles in spondylosis.

Jerky movements, for example, are generally considered problematic for back problems.

Physiotherapie Rückenschmerz
Physiotherapy often helps with progressive spondylosis © drubig-photo / Fotolia

Conclusion: Spondylosis is a widespread wear and tear disease

Most older people have bone spurs on their vertebrae. With these spondylophytes, the body tries to strengthen the degenerating spine. Herniated discs and metabolic diseases are among the risk factors.

After an inconspicuous initial period, spondylosis sometimes develops into a serious problem. Pain and muscle tension affect the quality of life and the spinal cord may be at risk.

Therefore remember to take preventive measures and have a consultation with your doctor at an early stage, so that you promote your back health.

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