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Lumbar Spondylosis

Lumbar Spondylosis

What is Lumbar Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is the Greek word for vertebrae. Your low back is made up of the last five bones (vertebrae) of your spine, called the lumbar vertebrae or lumbar spine.

Those vertebrae are connected by facet joints, which are lined with a smooth, rubbery layer of cartilage, separating the vertebrae and allowing their movements to be smooth and painless.

Tough, fibrous intervertebral discs between the vertebrae act as shock absorbers for your spine and allow your back the flexibility to bend and twist.

Lumbar spondylosis is the degeneration of the lumbar spine, and is sometimes known as spinal arthritis.

The term encompasses all degenerative conditions that affect the lumbar spine, including:

  • Low back osteoarthritis (OA) and facet joint OA: a type of spinal osteoarthritis that occurs when the cartilage surrounding the facet joints breaks down and wears away, causing inflammation. Bone rubs on bone which can cause painful bone spurs (bony overgrowths called osteophytes) to form in the place of cartilage. Bone spurs can cause spinal stenosis (the narrowing of the spinal canal) and lead to nerve compression and damage.
  • Spondylosis deformans: bone spurs that grow around a degenerating intervertebral disk
  • Lumbar degenerative disc disease: degeneration of the intervertebral discs
  • Bulging discs can cause inflammation and make the spinal nerves more sensitive or pinch a nerve(s)
  • Herniated discs can push on the ligaments in the lower back, causing pain
  • Spondylolisthesis – where a vertebra slips forward onto the next vertebra, misaligning the spine

Causes | Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

What Causes Lumbar Spondylosis?

There is no one cause of lumbar spondylosis, but it is associated with aging as the bones, joints, ligaments and intervertebral discs in the lumbar spine degenerate and weaken due to natural wear and tear.

It is a common condition that affects almost everyone at some point in their lives, though it may not always cause pain.

Factors that increase your likelihood of developing lumbar spondylosis include: 

  • Increasing age (although symptoms can start as early as age 20, and typically before age 50)
  • Family history of lumbar spondylosis
  • Previous low back injuries
  • Previous low back surgeries
  • Long-term, repetitive strain on your low back, whether occupational or recreational

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Lumbar Spondylosis?

Many people (27%-37%) with lumbar spondylosis do not experience any symptoms. 

Those that do usually improve within a short time using conservative treatments, and very few develop chronic pain. 

Because there are many different causes of lumbar spondylosis, symptoms vary greatly. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Back pain
  • Decreased range of motion and flexibility, either in the low back or legs, especially first thing in the morning or after periods of inactivity
  • Stiffness or tenderness in the low back
  • Numbness and tingling and/or shooting or radiating pain (known as lumbar radiculopathy) from the low back into the buttock or leg(s)
  • Weakness in the leg or foot if a nerve is severely pinched
  • Numbness, tingling and weakness can also be due to lumbar spondylosis that is injuring the spinal cord (myelopathy), for example, from a large herniated disc pushing on the spinal cord

Rare but serious complications of lumbar spondylosis include: 

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control or numbness in the groin because of nerve dysfunction
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis where the spinal canal narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves and possibly pinching them, resulting in weakness, tingling, numbness or pain that radiates from the low back into the buttocks, thigh, or groin
  • Cauda equina syndrome where nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord are pinched by an intervertebral disc or mass, causing severe nerve problems
  • Neurologic dysfunction due to nerve compression, caused by bulging discs or bone spurs narrowing the holes where the nerve roots exit the spinal canal (called foraminal stenosis)

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How is Lumbar Spondylosis Treated?

Treatments aim to reduce the pain that can result from lumbar spondylosis and include:

  • Physiotherapy (considered the main conservative treatment for lumbar spondylosis)
  • Medications, including:
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), either prescribed, or over-the-counter, such as Advil, Motrin or Aleve
    • Topical medications such as creams, sprays, gels or patches
    • Antidepressants due to their helpful analgesic properties
    • Muscle relaxants
    • Corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation
  • Surgery

Surgery is rarely used as a solution for chronic low back pain because of mixed results long-term. 

Most of the time, symptoms can be improved through medications, physiotherapy, and maintaining an active lifestyle. 

However, surgery is sometimes necessary when lumbar spondylosis has caused a nerve problem or nerve damage. 

If surgery is necessary after other less invasive treatments have not helped, physiotherapy is an important part of rehabilitation.

Physiotherapy for Lumbar Spondylosis

Physiotherapy is a drug-free and non-surgical treatment that focuses on reducing pain, preventing chronic pain, regaining strength, and increasing joint mobility, function, and quality of life.

Depending on your individual needs, physiotherapy for lumbar spondylosis can include:

Are you seeking physiotherapy for lumbar spondylosis? Book an assessment today.

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Can Lumbar Spondylosis Go Away on Its Own?

Unfortunately, no. Lumbar spondylosis is a chronic condition, but with proper treatment, it can be managed effectively.

If you have lumbar spondylosis, there are things you can do to make day-to-day living easier, including:

  • Minimizing activities that put stress on your low back, like bending and lifting or carrying heavy things
  • Switching from high-intensity activities like jogging, to low-intensity activities like walking, biking, and swimming
  • Applying heat and cold therapy
  • Using a properly supportive pillow and mattress
  • Using an ergonomic chair at work and home
  • Taking fish oil supplements, a natural anti-inflammatory that has been proven to improve several conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and may help with back pain

Can You Prevent Lumbar Spondylosis?

Though lumbar spondylosis is a very common condition connected with aging, there are steps you can take to reduce the chance of developing it and the pain it can cause, including:

  • Exercising regularly, including stretching exercises such as yoga or tai chi, at least 30 minutes every day (regular exercise increases the flow of nutrients and blood to the spine and decreases pressure on the intervertebral discs)
  • Staying active; avoid sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time
  • Eating a non-inflammatory diet (avoiding sugar, and processed and refined foods) and drinking plenty of water
  • Maintaining a healthy weight (which reduces stress on the facet joints in the spine)
  • Practicing good posture
  • Wearing orthotics for proper joint alignment and to add support and absorb the shock from your regular activities
  • Wearing proper shoes appropriate to the activity you’re doing
  • Using a properly supportive pillow and mattress
  • Using an ergonomic chair at work and home

Book a Physiotherapist Consult for Lumbar Spondylosis Today

Concerned about symptoms of lumbar spondylosis? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.

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