Lumbar Spondylosis also known as Spinal Arthritis
Lumbar spondylosis is an age-related degenerative condition of the lower spine (lumbar region). Spondylosis is a general term used to refer to degenerative disorders of the spine. Spondylosis can occur in either or all of these regions:
- cervical (neck and upper back),
- thoracic (mid-back), and
- lumbar (lower back).
The lumbar region of the spine is the most hard-working and stressed part of the vertebrae, as it carries most of the body’s weight and is subjected to constant twisting, turning, and bending movements. As a result, this section of the spine suffers from significant wear and tear of the spinal cartilages and discs (located between the vertebrae) that provide a cushioning and lubricating function.
As these important protective discs wear down and become thin or torn, the bones in the spine begin to grind against each other, leading to painful and progressive deterioration of the spine. This can also lead to narrowing of the space between vertebrae, and in serious cases, progress to narrowing of the spinal canal.
In many cases, the lowest lumbar region is affected, where the fifth and last lumbar vertebra meets the first vertebra of the sacral region of the spine. This site is especially prone to deterioration due to its excess load and stress, and this condition is referred to as lumbosacral spondylosis.
What contributes to Lumbar Spondylosis
It is important to point out that lumbar spondylosis is not a diagnosis in itself, and rather indicates painful spinal degenerative disorders in the region. There are several actual conditions that contribute to lumbar spondylosis, and the most common one is osteoarthritis.
Other degenerative conditions such as
- spinal stenosis,
- facet joint arthritis, and
- degenerative disc disease can also be involved.
- spinal abnormalities such as herniated or bulging discs, or
- bone spurs also fall under this category.
Lumbar Spondylosis Causes
Age-related wear and tear is the main cause of this degenerative condition. Persons over the age of 40 are more likely to show signs of this condition. However, excessive strain on the lower back or overuse injuries can cause this condition to develop sooner in younger individuals as well. Direct spinal trauma or hereditary conditions can also develop into lumbar spondylosis.
Lower back pain and stiffness are common symptoms. This condition can also cause instability of the spine, and limit the person’s normal range of motion, resulting in abnormal gait or difficulty in bending or turning. In the case of some underlying causes such as herniated or bulging discs, or bone spurs, these can protrude into the spinal canal and press against the spinal nerves. One of the common nerves compressed in this manner is the sciatic nerve. The involvement of the nerves causes secondary symptoms such as weakness, numbness or tingling sensations in the tailbone, lower back, hip joints and hamstring region. Severe cases of spinal degeneration can lead to conditions such as spondylolisthesis (slippage of vertebra), or spinal deformity.
Diagnosis is typically performed through X-ray and MRI, as well as a manual exam. In some cases a neurological exam may also be indicated to determine whether the spinal canal has been compromised.
Lumbar Spondylosis Treatments
Treatment options for severe cases of lumbar spondylosis will mostly depend on the specific underlying condition such as herniated disc, bone spurs or osteoarthritis.
For mild cases, pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to manage the pain and inflammation. Lifestyle changes such as healthy diet, regular exercise and weight management are also highly recommended to control the progression of the condition. Physical therapy with stretching exercises can be used to increase flexibility and strengthen the spine.
In extreme cases, spinal surgery may be indicated to correct the condition and stabilize the spine. However, as these surgeries are risky and have many complications, they are not always feasible options for the elderly patients who mostly suffer from this condition. Early detection and intervention is the best way to limit the pain and progression of lumbar spondylosis.