What is Lumbar Spondylosis?

Question: What is Lumbar Spondylosis?
Answer: Lumbar spondylosis is a non-specific term that means degeneration of the lumbar spine. The soft tissues of the lumbar spine that are usually are involved when doctors apply this term are the intervertebral discs and the facet joints. Spondylosis may occur in any section of the spine, but the joints of the lower spine absorb the most wear and tear due to their position the bottom of our torso.

Though many of us will only begin experiencing the effects of wear and tear on the spine as we approach middle age, in facts the joints of the spine begin wearing down as soon as we stop growing. At the moment we stop growing, our body's life cycle reverses itself, and our cells begin wearing out at a faster rate than our body can produce new, healthy cells. By the time we reach the age of thirty, this imbalance widens, and our discs and facet joints begin to wear out at a faster rate. As soon as our early 30s, our discs begin to lose their ability to absorb and retain water, and they begin to flatten out. This flattening of the discs brings the vertebral bodies closer together, and the loss of spacing puts more pressure on the facet joints at the end of the vertebrae, a process that results in lumbar spondylosis.

These degenerative changes occur in all people as we get older, though individual genetic differences and lifestyle may affect how quickly the joints of the spine wear out.

In the human spine, the elements at the front of the spine - vertebral bodies and discs - are the main weight bearing structures. The joints at the back of the spine - the facet joints - allow for motion of the spine, but are not designed as weight structures. As the discs of the spine lose volume and height, however, more body weight is placed on the facet joints. The rate of wear and tear on the facet joints accelerates as they are forced into more weight-bearing responsibilities. Eventually, osteoarthritis may occur in the facet joints. Osteoarthritis is inflammation of the joint, which is caused in this case, by a wearing out of the connective tissue between the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and typically involves weight bearing structures such as the knees and hips.

The result of these degenerative changes to the spinal joints - in terms of pain and physical limitation - varies from person to person. One person with lumbar spondylosis may feel fine, suffering from no back pain, while another person with the same affected joints in the same part of the body may suffer from severe pain and disability. Medical diagnostic tests such X-rays and MRIs are excellent in conforming or negating the presence of lumbar spondylosis. However, these same tests are unable to predict future pain or the prognosis from patient to patient.

The one rule regarding lumbar spondylosis is that there are no rules. Some people with it have back pain, and some people don't. Also to consider is the fact that while a test for the presence of lumbar spondylosis may be confirmed by a diagnostic test, it doesn't necessarily mean that lumbar spondylosis is the cause of a person's back pain.

That being said, osteoarthritis of the facet joints can cause significant back pain that requires treatment in order for the patient's symptoms to improve.

Facet Syndrome: Facet syndrome may occur as the joint tissue between the facets of the vertebra wear out. Symptoms related to facet syndrome are usually experienced in the facet joints of the lower back. Pain related to this condition may be exacerbated when standing, side to side bending, and backwards bending, and be relieved by sitting.