What is spondylolysis?

Spondylolsis, also known as spinal osteoarthritis, is a general term for wear and tear that affects the spinal bones and discs in your neck and back. Spondylolsis is a degenerative disorder that may affect the neck, mid-back or lower back.

What causes spondylolsis to occur?

Spondylolsis is caused by changes to the bones and cartilage in the back and neck. These changes may result from dehydrated discs, herniated (ruptured) discs, bone spurs or stiff ligaments.

What are the symptoms?

Many people with spondylolsis do not have symptoms. Essentially everyone has some amount of degeneration of their spine as they age.  Pain is the most common symptom, particularly in the lower back. The pain is often mistaken for a muscle strain.  Muscle spasms that occur as a result of spondylolysis may cause an overall feeling of stiffness in the back and may affect posture.

How is it diagnosed?

A diagnosis of spondylosis is made using radiology tests such as plain film X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. X-rays can show bone spurs on the spine, thickening of the joints that connect the vertebrae to each other, and narrowing of space between discs. CT scans of the spine can show narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) and give information about the bony structure of the spine. MRI scans can determine whether disc herniation is present or whether there are pinched nerves.

How is it treated?

Treatment for spondylosis is nearly always conservative. Non-surgical treatment includes resting, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, lifestyle modifications, exercise and physical therapy. Alternative therapies such as massage, yoga and acupuncture may provide benefit. In very rare cases, surgery may be beneficial.

What can I do at home to help relieve symptoms?

In many cases, changing posture and using spinal injections can control the symptoms for a long period of time. Taking anti-inflammatories may be beneficial, especially ibuprofen products like Advil or Nuprin.

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