Lumbosacral spondylosis is a painful degenerative spinal condition that occurs primarily as the result of aging. Spondylosis can affect several areas of the spine, but when it occurs in the lower, or lumbar, part of the spine, it is called lumbosacral spondylosis. While surgery may be needed in more severe cases, most people can find relief of symptoms through non-surgical means.
Aging causes biochemical changes that can affect the discs that cushion the area between the spinal vertebrae. Because of these changes and the wear and tear to the spine over the years, part of the disc can weaken, affecting the disc’s ability to work as a good shock absorber for your back. Degeneration of the discs can also be accompanied by the formation of bone spurs on the spine. Spondylosis, also called spinal osteoarthritis, is most common in people who are 40 or older and can be caused if you have injured your spine.
Symptoms of lumbosacral spondylosis include pain and stiffness when you first wake up. Lifting, bending and sitting for long periods of time can increase pain, as these activities put pressure on the lower part of the spine. If there is a significant amount of disc degeneration, a ruptured disc or impingement on the nerves from a bone spur, you may experience tingling, weakness, muscle spasms or numbness in your legs. In some cases, bowel or bladder problems may occur due to nerve compression.
After taking your medical history and listening to your symptoms, your doctor will examine your spine for signs of abnormalities, muscle spasm or tenderness. He will evaluate your range of motion, looking for difficultly in bending, rotating and extending the spine. You may be asked to undergo a spinal X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Bone spurs and narrowing between the vertebrae due to disc degeneration can be seen on these tests. Your doctor may also be able to see changes in the water content of your discs on an MRI.
Analgesics, anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxants are helpful in treating pain. Physical therapy treatments, including application of heat and electrical stimulation, can help relieve spasms and pain. Surgery to remove damaged discs or fuse part of the spine is usually only considered in cases in which the pain is severe or when the spine is compressed.
Exercising to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles can help these muscles better support the spine. Orthotics, special shoe inserts designed to keep the foot in the optimal position to support the weight of the body, can also help reduce symptoms. If your pain is severe and your job requires lifting heavy objects or bending, your doctor may recommend that you find a job that is less stressful on your spine. Losing weight will help reduce pressure on your spine.
In March 2009, University of Alberta researchers Michele Crites-Battie and Tapio Videman announced that they had identified eight genes directly related to disc degeneration. Identifying the genes involved gives researchers insight into the mechanisms behind degeneration and a better understanding of what goes wrong when discs degenerate. Crites-Battie and Videman plan to look at the interaction between these genes and the environment and are hopeful that their work will lead to effective interventions for disc degeneration.