What is osteochondrosis and how is it prevented and treated?
Osteochondrosis is an internationally widespread disease because people all over the world suffer from (from 40 to 90% of population in different regions according to estimates). The usual onset of the disease is after 30 years. Back pain in everyday life is often attributed to this disease.
In this post, we will review the detailed symptoms, causes, and osteochondrosis treatment methods.
What is osteochondrosis?
In medicine, this ailment is considered damage of the spine tissues of a degenerative-dystrophic nature. The disease is distinguished by damage of the intervertebral discs, articular surfaces, vertebral bodies, and ligaments. As a rule, with osteochondrosis, bones and ligaments are first affected.
There are several stages of the disease development. Let's consider them in more detail:
- At the initial stage it looks like dehydration of the nucleus pulposus, which induces a descending in the position of the vertebrae. Nucleus pulposus is a medical term that refers to the interior of the intervertebral disc, represented by semi-fluid (connective tissue fibers) and gelatinous (chondrin) components. During this period, the patient has cracks in the annulus fibrosus.
- The next stage is closely related to the first one: the prolapse (descending) of the vertebra induces ligaments and muscles sagging. This condition provokes motor imbalance of the vertebrae. This period is characterized by spondylolisthesis, or, in simple terms, the displacement of the vertebrae and spinal ache.
- The third stage is distinguished by more striking manifestations for an ordinary person - protrusions of intervertebral discs (protrusion of their contents) and arthrosis.
- The final stage is associated with osteophytes. Our body, having noticed the "looseness" of the vertebrae, tries to return the spine to its original functions: supporting and protective. For this, bone growths appear on the surfaces of the vertebrae, which are called osteophytes. At the same time, the growth of fibrous tissue occurs. This results into embedding of the motor segment of the spine in the shell and restriction of spinal mobility.
Osteochondrosis is a multi-type disease. There are cervical (neck), thoracic (chest) and lumbosacral (lower back and tailbone) -located manifestations of the disease. Lately, osteochondrosis of the knee joint has become increasingly common.
What causes osteochondrosis?
There are numerous factors for the disease development and they are not always easy to determine. It’s quite common when they come hand in hand and enhance each other's negative effect:
- The first cause that greatly contributes to the onset of symptoms of the disease is sedentary lifestyle.
- Excess weight also increases the load on the spine and other joints and bones.
- Bad habits (in particular, smoking), unhealthy diet, flat feet – all of these impairs general health, blood circulation, metabolism, etc.
- Heavy physical activity and impaired posture are also a common cause of the disease.
- Injury of the spine can promote osteochondrosis, and it can also develop through a genetic predisposition- Impaired metabolism, infections, congenital anomalies and age-related changes are factors for the disease onset.
- An interesting fact that there is a proven connection between the disease onset and vibrations. This directly applies to drivers of agricultural machinery or machine operators.
Today's osteochondrosis does not have serious age restrictions - it occurs in both elderly and young people. There is a myth that the disease is caused by calcification (salt deposits) in the body, but it is not entirely true. Calcification is rather one of the disease outcomes. The ache in osteochondrosis is the irritation of the nerve roots. Vascular disorders in osteochondrosis can develop on the basis of a violation of the innervation of the vasomotor system.
Symptoms of osteochondrosis
The most obvious symptom of the disease is pain and discomfort. The pain is not always permanent; it can periodically worsen and then subside. These symptoms are often accompanied by numbness in the limbs. In most cases, the pain radiates to the left side of the body. If you notice symptoms of this disease in yourself, then hurry up to a specialist - a therapist or neuropathologist. Early detection of osteochondrosis gives higher chances for effective treatment and management of the disease.
Patients with the disease often complain of increased fatigue. An interesting feature, at first glance not clear how it is associated with this disease, is the chilliness of the limbs. Headache and dizziness often accompany osteochondrosis. A characteristic feature of the disease is also high eye fatigue and even vision impairment.
In osteochondrosis of the lumbosacral region (lower back and tailbone), patients may experience problems of the reproductive system. It is important for women to know that osteochondrosis can interfere with the normal course of pregnancy and the very conception. Each type of the disease has its own typical features.
- In the cervical (neck) form of the disease, there are signs in the form of headaches (especially during head movement), dizziness when turning the head, impaired sensitivity of the affected area, ache in the neck, shoulders, arms and chest. An interesting and not particularly pleasant symptom of neck osteochondrosis is a violation of the mobility of the tongue.
- Thoracic (chest spine) osteochondrosis is rare and is distinguished by ache in the chest, especially when breathing. The pain can radiate to the stomach, heart and liver. This species is also characterized by numbness, only now in the chest area.
- In the lumbosacral (lower back) form of pathology, pain radiating to the legs often occurs. Another symptom is leg paresis (inability to move).
Before embarking on diagnostic studies, the neuropathologist collects the patient's history and carefully examines their complaints. Osteochondrosis has common symptoms with some other diseases, so it is crucial to be able to differentiate pathologies.
X-ray examinations help to confirm the diagnosis, they include: radiography, myelography and computed tomography. A general X-ray examination allows obtaining an X-ray of the spine or its part. Thus, the doctor can identify the location of the disease. For clarity, we will explain how you can determine osteochondrosis by X-ray: the picture will show a narrowing of the intervertebral disc, the presence of bone growths (osteophytes) or a change in the shape of the spinal segment.
Myelographic examination is more difficult than radiographic. This is due to certain manipulations that physicians have to carry out during myelography: a contrast fluid is injected into the spinal cord canal. This can be dangerous for the patient: firstly, an allergic reaction to the injected substance may develop, and secondly, if the puncture is unsuccessful, the spinal cord can be damaged. Despite this, correctly performed myelography allows specialists to examine the internal structure of the spinal cord canal. This method is substantial for the diagnosis of spinal hernia.
CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are the most effective and modern methods to differentiate osteochondrosis and diseases of the spinal column with similar symptoms.
Treatment of osteochondrosis
Therapy of osteochondrosis is carried out in a comprehensive manner. Such therapy is aimed at the elimination of pain and the causes of the disease. To combat osteochondrosis, doctors use acupuncture, vacuum treatment, manual therapy, laser treatment, traction, electrical stimulation, pharmaco and magnetopuncture. The main task for obtaining effective therapy is the timely detection of the disease.
Is it possible to cure osteochondrosis?
The answer depends on the form and degree of osteochondrosis. If the treatment of the disease is started at the first stage, then you can get rid of the disease forever.
For the therapy of osteochondrosis, doctors use medication and non-medication methods. Among the medicines used it is worth highlighting:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They help relieve pain and inflammation. Worthy examples of these drugs are Meloxicam, Diclofenac and Ibuprofen. NSAIDs can be prescribed for topical use in the form of ointments and gels. The most effective ointments are Diclofenac, Kapsikam, and Finalgon.
- Novocaine blockade. They effectively deal with pain syndrome.
- Steroid drugs. They are given as epidural and intramuscular injections.
- Muscle relaxants. These medicines help the patient fight muscle spasms. To obtain this effect, you can use medicines such Midocalm, Sirdalud, Tizanidine.
- Vitamins B1, B6 and B12. They help with the metabolic processes needed for the healthy spine.
Examples of non-medicine treatment are varied, interesting and enjoyable. To cope with the disease without drugs will help:
- Exercise therapy;
- Manual therapy;
Let's take a closer look at these treatment methods.
- Exercising is a selection of physical exercises to eliminate compression of nerve roots, correct posture and to strengthen the muscle corset. Exercise therapy helps prevent the development of complications of osteochondrosis. Such physical activity helps to reduce the load directly on the spinal column, and also improves its blood supply.
- Physiotherapeutic procedures are appointed to eliminate pain and inflammation. In this direction, electrophoresis, ultrasound, laser and magnet treatment work effectively.
- Massage stimulates blood circulation and relieves muscle tension. Not only therapeutic massage helps to eliminate pain, but also manual therapy. In addition, it helps to restore mobility to the vertebrae and correct posture.
- Traction, in other words, stretching. The desire to stretch the spine is probably familiar to all people suffering from osteochondrosis. In today's medicine, there are special devices that allow you to do this. This procedure allows getting rid of pain and increase the intervertebral space.
- Another interesting method of non-drug treatment of osteochondrosis is reflexology. It is closely related to acupuncture, as it affects the reflex points of the human body.
The best cure for osteochondrosis
An ideal remedy would relieve pain and inflammation, better blood supply, restore cartilage and articular mobility, and also neutralize depression caused by constant discomfort. All these tasks are handled by a complex of well-chosen medicines. In this part of the article, we will take a closer look at all of these medicines.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs help to overcome pain, inflammation and swelling. There are for local external use - ointments and gels (e.g. Voltaren, and for internal administration in the form of tablets and injections. The most used medicines include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for osteochondrosis
Blood vessels medications
The narrowing of the blood vessels in osteochondrosis is related to pain and muscle overexertion. This results in oxygen starvation of damaged tissues and the dysfunction of internal organs is disrupted. To avoid such complications, doctors prescribe vasodilating drugs to their patients: Pentoxifylline, Eufillin and Trental.
Muscle relaxants relax muscles and provide a calming effect. It improves blood flow and promotes the painkiller effect of NSAIDs. These medicines help speeding up the healing process. This group includes as Baclofen, Mydocalm, Zanaflex (Tizanidine), and Sirdalud have shown their effectiveness.
Chondroprotectors and vitamin complexes help restoring cartilage tissue. These are means that restore not only cartilage tissue, but also mobility in the joint. Decent medicines in this group are chondroitin and glucosamine-based formulations such as Osteoartisi and Teraflex. Chondroxide can be used as an ointment. There are also sport supplements that can be bought without a prescription that have the same compositions and effect.
It would seem, why take sedatives for osteochondrosis? The answer is not as complicated as you might think: pain that follows a person for a long time can easily provoke depressive states and frequent stress. In most cases, a valerian or motherwort tincture will suffice. In more severe cases, doctors may prescribe Gidazepam or Donormil.
Corset for osteochondrosis
Another addition to the therapy is wearing of a special medical corset. Corsets are specially made separately for the neck, chest, and lower back spine or for complete fixation of the spine.
- In case of thoracic (chest) osteochondrosis, corsets are used from a special stretching material with metal or plastic splints inside.
- For lumbar (lower back) osteochondrosis, corsets with rigid cross and longitudinal inserts made of metal or plastic are used. A bandage tape or neoprene is taken as a material for manufacturing.
- A neck corset is called a collar and is stiff. Corsets that fix the entire spine are also called posture correctors. Corsets are available in soft, medium and hard rigidity that should be chosen by a doctor.
Wearing a corset helps aligning the muscles of the back and maintain spine in the right position, reduce pain, avoid complications, and speed up recovery. However, there are certain rules in wearing a corset. For the first time, the corset is put worn for no more than 15 minutes, and then it can be worn for no more than 6 hours a day. It is also highly advised to train spine muscles and not fully rely on the corset or the effect could be contrary – the muscles relax as they are used that something holds them in a certain position without their participation.
Prevention of osteochondrosis
Prevention is of great importance for maintaining the health of the spine. It is required to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, do exercises and fight excess weight, if you have any. Stress and nervous shocks can also cause the development of osteochondrosis. Therefore, it is important to monitor your psycho-stability and avoid stressful situations. Even old injuries over time can trigger the development of osteochondrosis so they need to be avoided from childhood. Proper nutrition in already developed osteochondrosis and for its prophylaxis is of particular importance.
Foods consumed by a person should provide him/her with substances that synthesize cartilage tissue. This means mucopolysaccharides contained in jelly and gelatin. It is crucial to control sufficient fluid intake, as insufficient hydration leads to depletion of fluid of the intervertebral discs. Proteins specifically needed in osteochondrosis are contained in big volumes in meat, nuts, fish, beans, eggplant, and other products.
Minerals and vitamins for the bone tissue can be obtained from dairy products, beans and lettuce leaves. Vitamin D, contained in eggs, milk butter, and sea fish, is essential for the absorption of calcium. Magnesium doesn’t allow calcium to be flushed out of the body. It is found in cucumbers, nuts, and seeds. Many people know about the phosphorus content in fish, but the fact that this element is also included in peas, soybeans, bran and white cabbage is not so well known. Sources of manganese are chicken meat, yolks, cottage cheese, potato skins, and bananas.
Among vitamins, it is worth highlighting the special role of groups A, B and C. Eggs, liver, carrots and melons are good sources of vitamin A. Red meat, seafood, mushrooms and cereals contain B vitamins. Ascorbic acid, familiar to us since childhood, is found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and berries.
As you can see from this list you can make a menu of very tasty and varied dishes.
Now let's discuss prohibited foods. The prohibited or limited products for osteochondrosis include: salt, pickles and marinades, hot spices, junk food snacks, sugar (replace it with honey), soda and coffee.
Complications of osteochondrosis
If the disease of the spine is not treated, it can to disability. The complications include:
- Spinal stenosis due to narrowing of its canal. This provokes numbness in the limbs and impaired walking.
- Pinching of the spinal nerves.
- Protrusion of discs and later intervertebral hernia.
- Lumbago and sciatica.
- Schmorl's nods/hernia.
- Displacement of the vertebrae.
- Migraines and headaches.
In osteochondrosis of the neck, an elevation in blood tension is often observed.
In case you have back pain, hurry up to seek help from a healthcare specialist, because timely started treatment is the key to a successful recovery.
Post by: Emma Ager, MD, Copenhagen, Denmark