Spondylosis is an umbrella term that references pain caused by degenerative spinal conditions; it’s not a clinical diagnosis and is commonly caused by arthritis. Multilevel spondylosis involves spinal degeneration on multiple levels/segments of the spine: cervical, thoracic, and/or lumbar.
Let’s start our exploration of multilevel spondylosis by first touching on the different sections of the spine.
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The spine is made up of vertebrae (bones) that are rectangular in shape and stacked on top of one another in a straight alignment.
The vertebrae are separated by intervertebral discs, which are important spinal structures for a number of reasons: providing the spine with structure (adjacent vertebrae attach to the disc in between), making the spine more flexible, providing cushioning between adjacent vertebrae, and acting as shock absorbers.
The discs are important in the context of spondylosis because many forms of spinal degeneration start with changes to the intervertebral discs.
If an intervertebral disc starts to deteriorate and becomes desiccated, bulging, or herniated, the spine’s structure is compromised as it becomes harder to maintain its natural curvatures and alignment.
The spine’s natural curvatures make it stronger, more flexible, and better able to absorb/distribute mechanical stress; many types of spinal degeneration affect the spine’s ability to maintain its natural curvatures and alignment.
The spine is made up of three main sections (levels): cervical (neck), thoracic (upper/middle back), and lumbar (lower back).
The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae, the thoracic spine has 12, and the lumbar spine consists of 5.
The optimal health and function of each of these spinal sections is dependent on the health of the others, which is why spinal degeneration in one section can affect the integrity of other levels of the spine.
So now that we have a basic idea of the different cervical, thoracic, and lumbar levels of the spine, let’s address the term spondylosis.
As mentioned, spondylosis is a general term that references pain caused by a variety of spinal conditions/issues related to degenerative changes in the spine itself.
Many doctors use the term spondylosis to specifically reference arthritis of the spine that involves inflammation related to age-related deterioration of the cartilage that connects and cushions the vertebrae.
Spondylosis can affect one section, if the vertebral bodies experiencing degeneration are isolated to one level of the spine, or the affected vertebrae can be located in multiple sections: multilevel spondylosis.
In addition, multilevel spondylosis can also refer to instances where multiple vertebrae within one section are affected.
Cervical spondylosis and lumbar spondylosis are the most common because the vertebrae of the lower back support the weight of the spine and trunk, while the vertebrae of the cervical spine have to support the weight of the neck and head: something that’s become increasingly difficult in the modern age with the prevalence of forward head posture, also known as tech neck.
The vertebrae of the spine that are responsible for supporting the most weight are generally the first to experience degenerative changes, either due to natural age-related deterioration, the cumulative effect of certain lifestyle choices, and/or degenerative spinal conditions.
So what is multilevel degenerative spondylosis?
Multilevel degenerative spondylosis means that multiple spinal levels/vertebrae are experiencing degenerative changes, and this can be a more severe form of spondylosis because of the extent of spinal degeneration and the severity of back, neck, and/or radicular pain it can cause.
There are a number of causes for spinal degeneration, so let’s touch on some of the most common: aging, lifestyle, and arthritis.
Aging and Lifestyle
There is a certain amount of natural age-related spinal degeneration to be expected, but lifestyle choices can reduce or increase those levels.
Carrying excess weight means more pressure and weight for the joints of the body, including the spine, to support, and this increases general wear and tear on the spine over time.
Leading a sedentary lifestyle is contrary to the spine’s movement-based design, and particularly for the intervertebral discs, good surrounding circulation is the means by which they hydrate and absorb nutrients, so regular movement is key.
Chronic poor posture can lead to the development of a number of spinal issues/conditions, including increasing degeneration, as holding the spine in an unnatural position can strain the vertebrae and the surrounding spinal muscles; over time, this can have the cumulative effect of changing the position of vertebrae and weakening muscles as they struggle to support and stabilize the spine in its unnatural position.
Repeatedly lifting heavy objects incorrectly can also cause spinal degeneration by introducing adverse spinal tension, strain, and increasing risk of injury.
The aforementioned types of lifestyle choices can have a cumulative effect of increasing wear and tear on the spine, and this can speed up natural age-related spinal deterioration, and impact its overall health and function.
Intervertebral Disc Issues
As mentioned, it’s often the spinal discs that are at the root of degenerative changes, with issues such as degenerative disc disease-causing structural changes to the spine: shifting the position of affected vertebrae so the spine is no longer aligned and functioning optimally.
One of the main causes of spinal degeneration is osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis affects millions of people around the world and involves the loss of protective cartilage that cushions bones where they meet (joints); cartilage is the elastic tissue that protects joints from friction/wear and tear, and facilitates optimal normal joint function by providing lubrication.
In spinal osteoarthritis, the facet joints are targeted, and this means the spinal discs and vertebrae aren’t being cushioned and protected and rub up against one another, causing inflammation, friction, and degeneration.
Degenerative disc disease also plays a role in osteoarthritis, which is why they commonly present together.
The intervertebral discs are primarily made of water, and over time, their fluid level decreases (desiccation), and this causes the discs to change shape and lose height; their change in position puts extra pressure on the facet joints, and this can lead to a loss of cartilage over time and the development of osteoarthritis of the spine.
The problem with disc and joint degeneration is that while certain steps can be taken to slow degenerative changes, once deterioration has occurred, it’s a long process to work towards reversing some of that damage, and of course, there are no guarantees.
Particularly the spinal discs, as they don’t have their own vascular supply, are limited in how much they can repair themselves.
The spine plays many important roles in human anatomy; it helps us to stand upright and practice good posture, engage in flexible movement, support the weight of the torso, and absorb mechanical stress.
As such a key structure, the spine is made up of many moving parts such as its vertebrae, facet joints, and intervertebral discs.
In a healthy spine, the vertebrae are stacked on top of one another in a straight alignment and are separated by intervertebral discs that provide essential cushioning that protects the joints of the spine.
If the vertebrae or discs start to deteriorate, they affect the biomechanics of the entire spine by impacting its ability to maintain its natural curvatures and alignment.
A spine that is misaligned and/or has lost one or more of its healthy curves can’t function optimally, and this will increase spinal degeneration and can cause the development of spondylosis.
Spondylosis is not a spinal condition, but rather a term that references symptoms of back, neck, and/or radicular pain caused by deterioration of the spine and its parts.
Spinal degeneration is caused by natural age-related changes, particularly in women going through menopause and experiencing changes in hormones and bone density, the cumulative effect of certain lifestyle choices, and osteoarthritis of the spine that causes a loss of facet-joint cartilage, resulting in inflammation, friction, and degeneration.
Spondylosis can affect one section of the spine, or multiple levels and segments: multilevel spondylosis.
Cervical and lumbar spondylosis affect the neck and lower back, and these are the most common regions affected as the vertebrae of the lower back have to support the weight of the spine and trunk, and the vertebrae of the cervical spine have to support the weight of the neck and head.
Here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, I treat multilevel spondylosis by customizing treatment plans based on the condition’s underlying cause and combining different treatment disciplines for the most specific results.
While there are no treatment guarantees, by combining condition-specific chiropractic care, in-office therapy, custom-prescribed home exercises, and bracing when necessary, I can help restore as much of the spine’s healthy curves, alignment, function, which can prevent further spinal degeneration, or at the very least, slow down the process.