Spondylosis is the medical word describing “wear and tear” or “degenerative changes” in the spine. It is the equivalent of osteoarthritis in joints outside the spine.
It’s a universal phenomenon – everybody will have some degree of spondylosis in their spine as they grow older. There is though, a confusion about the relationship of spondylosis with chronic spinal pain.
Many patients and doctors think that if you feel pain in a certain area of your spine and there is spondylosis in the same area, that the spondylosis must be the underlying cause of the pain. However, in the high proportion of cases this simply isn’t the case.
Some of the confusion arises because everyone knows that if there is arthritis in the major weight bearing joints of the body like the hip or knee, this will often cause significant pain. Arthritis in the hip or knee can be progressive, ending up in the need for a joint replacement.
The fundamental problem with arthritis in the hip or knee is a failure of the articular cartilage to cope with the stresses through the joint. But in the spine and there are two major weight bearing structures – the disc (which does not rely on cartilage at all) and the facet joint (which does). The disc carries a significantly higher proportion of weight than the joint and therefore the the failure of articular cartilage is much less significant in the spine. This means spondylosis does not always cause pain.
We all get ‘degenerative changes’ as we grow older. There is no hard evidence that these changes are a cause of back pain.
In fact the peak incidence of back pain occurs in the age group from 40-55 years of age and declines after that. The incidence of spondylosis continues to increase. If spondylosis always caused back pain, then the two would increase together. However, the opposite is the case.
If you want to study further – here’s a link to some research that clarifies the relationship between chronic pain and spondylosis or degenerative changes in the spine.
It is really important that we understand that if there is underlying spondylosis we are not doomed to a life of chronic pain. I describe the changes of spondylosis as similar to the wrinkles you get from laughter lines in your face – if you haven’t lived a full and rich life, you won’t get them.
About the Author:
Dr Jonathan Kuttner has been treating people with chronic pain for over thirty years. He firmly believes that knowledge is power, and once you understand the cause of your pain, you can begin to control it. Go to Jonathan’s site to read more about mind body connection and treating trigger points.