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Lumbar Spondylosis (Degeneration)

What is Lumbar Spondylosis?

Lumbar spondylosis is an age-related degeneration of the vertebrae and disks of the lower back. These changes are often called degenerative disk disease and osteoarthritis. The common condition is marked by the breakdown of one or more of the disks that separate the bones of the spine. The disks provide cushioning between the vertebrae and absorb pressure put on the spine. Although most people experience some degeneration of the spine as they age, not everyone experiences back pain.

Causes of Lumbar Spondylosis

Spondylosis most often affects disks in the lumbar region. When disks herniate, the protruding disk can press against any of the spinal nerves that run from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. Herniated disks can cause nerve pain known as sciatica, which travels along the sciatic nerve running from the lower back down the length of each leg.

As a disk degenerates, bone spurs may form at the edges of the vertebrae. Bone spurs may also compress the spinal nerves, leading to weakness or numbness in the arms or legs. If bone spurs compress the spinal cord, you may develop problems with walking and bladder and bowel control. Over time, a degenerating disc may break down completely, leaving no space between two vertebrae, which can result in impaired movement, pain, and nerve damage. The pressure can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the back and the legs.

Early Signs of Lumbar Spondylosis and Diagnosis

Symptoms of spondylosis may vary from none to mild to severe. The most common symptom is low back pain. Our spine specialists diagnose spondylosis based on your history of symptoms, a physical exam, and imaging tests that may include X-rays, CT scan, or MRI.

Treatments for Lumbar Spondylosis

Our spine specialists diagnose spondylosis based on your history of symptoms, a physical exam, and imaging tests that may include X-rays, CT scan, or MRI. Most people with lumbar spondylosis can be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or pain relievers, heat or ice applications, and physical therapy.

People who still experience pain or are significantly restricted in their daily movements after trying more conservative treatments may consider surgery to remove the deteriorated disk and fuse the two vertebrae. Surgery may be recommended for patients who have severe or high-grade slippage of the vertebra, such as when more than 50% of the fractured vertebra slips forward on the vertebra below it. The procedure most often recommended for people with lumbar spondylolisthesis is spinal fusion.

Anatomy of the neck and spine

The spine is divided into the following regions:

  • The cervical region (vertebrae C1-C7) encompasses the first seven vertebrae under the skull. Their main function is to support the weight of the head, which averages 10 pounds. The cervical vertebrae are more mobile than other areas, with the atlas and axis vertebra facilitating a wide range of motion in the neck. Openings in these vertebrae allow arteries to carry blood to the brain and permit the spinal cord to pass through. They are the thinnest and most delicate vertebrae.
  • The thoracic region (vertebrae T1-T12) is composed of 12 small bones in the upper chest. Thoracic vertebrae are the only ones that support the ribs. Muscle tension from poor posture, arthritis, and osteoporosis are common sources of pain in this region.
  • The lumbar region (vertebrae L1-L5) features vertebrae that are much larger to absorb the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects. Injuries to the lumbar region can result in some loss of function in the hips, legs, and bladder control.
  • The sacral region (vertebrae S1-S5) includes a large bone at the bottom of the spine. The sacrum is triangular-shaped and consists of five fused bones that protect the pelvic organs.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

The UTHealth Neurosciences Spine Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists who work together to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. Your team will share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes.

We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Spine Disease and Back Pain

Contact Us

At UTHealth Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8100, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.