Spondylosis is a disorder characterized by degeneration in your spine, often due to age-related changes or due to disease such as osteoarthritis which weaken the bones of the spine. It is more common in people over the age of fifty years, and is also known as degenerative disc disease or spine arthritis. Spondylosis can occur anywhere along the spine, and is categorized according to the location where it occurs as follows:

  • Cervical spondylosis: affects the part of the spine at the neck

  • Thoracic spondylosis: spine arthritis that occurs around mid-back 

  • Lumbar spondylosis: occurs in the lower back

Spondylosis is caused by the age-related wear and tear of the spinal bones and ligaments, leading to bone spurs (overgrowth of bones). As you age, the discs between the vertebrae of the spine also degenerate, leading of herniated and bulging discs which further contribute to spondylosis. These intervertebral discs also get dehydrated, which means the gel-like material inside these disks can dry out over time, making the vertebrae rub together painfully. Spondylosis may also be caused by injury.

Besides old-age, other risk factors for developing this disorder include work-related activities that put extra strain on your spine (such as due to heavy lifting), having a family history of spondylosis, smoking and also being overweight and inactive.

In many cases, spondylosis may not cause any symptoms. However, you may experience symptoms of pain, depending on where the spondylosis occurs. Cervical spondylosis is manifested as pain and numbness in the neck region, while thoracic and lumbar spondylosis symptoms can be felt around the mid- and lower back, respectively. 

Generally, the following are some symptoms associated with spondylosis:

  • Back or neck pain due to compression of a nerve

  • Shooting pain into a limb. The pain may increase when standing or sitting

  • Numbness and tingling

  • Pain and weakness in the arms and legs if an injury to the spinal cord has occurred

  • Pain around the shoulder blade in case of cervical spondylosis

  • Muscles weakness in the arms or legs, making it difficult to grasp objects or move your limbs

  • In extreme cases, loss of balance or loss of bowel and bladder control may also occur​​​

If left untreated, spondylosis can advance to chronic back pain​ and may also cause serious, irreversible nerve dysfunction if a nerve is compressed. Over time, it can also lead to a condition called spinal stenosis, characterized by narrowing of the spinal canal with the possibility of the spinal cord being pinched. Therefore, if you’re over fifty years of age and have been experiencing back pain and problems sitting or standing, you must consult a neurologist at the Mind and Brain Service Line​ of the Aga Khan University Hospital.​
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.​

Because the symptoms of spondylosis are similar to those of other disorders, a careful diagnosis needs to be made. The process of diagnosing your spondylosis will begin with a detailed medical history in which your doctor will note down your symptoms, including signs of any pain and numbness.

Subsequently, a physical examination will be conducted, in which your doctor will test your reflexes, check for muscle weakness or sensory deficits, and test the range of motion of your neck. You may also be asked to walk or carry out a range of motions, such as moving your arms or legs, bending or sitting down. 

In case your doctor suspects that you may have spondylosis, further diagnostic tests will be ordered to confirm the diagnosis, such as:

  • X-rays to check for bone spurs 

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help produce detailed images of the bones of your spine and locate any pinched nerves

  • Electromyogram (EMG) to evaluate your nerves’ electrical activity

  • A nerve conduction study to check the speed and strength of the signals your nerves send​

There is no permanent cure for spondylosis since it is a degenerative disease. However, your doctor will try to provide you relief from pain, prevent risks of permanent damage to the nerves and help you lead as normal a life as possible. Conservative, non-surgical methods of treatment will be the usual treatment options at first. Some of these are:

  • Pain-relieving medications, to provide relief from pain caused by nerve damage

  • Steroid injections to reduce tissue inflammation and lessen pain

  • Physical therapy to help you exercise your muscles for building muscle strength 

Your doctor will also advise you to take certain self-care measures to help you manage your life with spondylosis. These include:

  • Continuing normal, daily activities since bed rest is believed to prolong for recovery

  • Avoiding strenuous exercises

  • Use of hot and cold packs to help manage pain

  • Sleeping with a pillow between their legs may be helpful for low back pain

In case you do not respond well to the above treatment methods and your symptoms continue to worsen, your doctor may recommend surgery to cure your symptoms. The purpose of the surgery could get rid of bone spurs; correct any herniated disks and make more space available for pinched nerves.​​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the ​advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider. ​