Osteochondrosis: causes, symptoms, treatment

Osteochondrosis is considered the most commonly diagnosed pathology of the spine. Several thousand newly diagnosed cases of the disease are recorded each year. Experts attribute this to the sedentary lifestyle of the people.

For the prevention of the development of osteochondrosis, there are special recommendations, compliance with which will reduce the risk of exacerbation of the disease. When the first signs of pathology of the spine appear, it is necessary to contact your doctor for further diagnosis and treatment.

spine structure


Osteochondrosis is a degenerative-dystrophic disease of the spine that affects the intervertebral discs. The appearance of a pathology is possible at any age. Recently, there has been an increase in the detection of osteochondrosis due to the inactive lifestyle of the population. Excessive stress on the spine during a sedentary lifestyle, hard physical work, along with obesity, negatively affects the condition of the intervertebral discs. The combination of predisposing factors leads to thinning of the surface of the vertebrae, the appearance of pathological cracks and growths. As a result, nutrition and microcirculation in the affected area of the spine are disturbed.

Symptoms of osteochondrosis at the initial stage of the development of the disease are characterized by mild severity. In this regard, there is a late appeal for medical help. The progression of the process leads to the destruction of the vertebrae, a persistent pain syndrome, impaired sensitivity and difficulty in independent movement. To prevent the onset of a severe stage of the disease, there are preventive recommendations to minimize the number of exacerbations of osteochondrosis of the spine.

Currently, there are various methods of treating degenerative-dystrophic diseases of the spine. The choice of treatment is made exclusively by the attending physician on the basis of a preliminary diagnosis of osteochondrosis.


The main factor provoking the development of osteochondrosis is the poor distribution of the load on the spine. This leads to changes in the structures of the cartilage. As the disease progresses, the vertebrae are destroyed.

In addition to the main cause of the disease, there are provoking factors, the presence of which increases the risk of osteochondrosis of the spine. These include:

  • Inactive lifestyle. Lack of physical activity leads to weakness of the muscle corset. The affected spine is not supported by the back muscles. At the same time, the severity of clinical symptoms of the disease increases.
  • Scoliosis. The curvature of the spine precedes the development of osteochondrosis. Therefore, it is important to practice the posture from school.
  • Hard physical labor. Daily dragging of heavy objects, lifting weights negatively affects the condition of the spine. Abrupt movements can provoke an exacerbation of the disease. In addition, intense physical activity is the cause of the development of intervertebral hernias.
  • Injury to the spine. Bruises, concussions, falls on the back increase the risk of osteochondrosis of the spine.
  • Hormonal imbalance. Metabolic disorders interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
  • Hereditary burden. The presence of a predisposition to the occurrence of degenerative-dystrophic diseases increases the risk of developing osteochondrosis of the spine.
  • Frequent hypothermia.
  • Prolonged stay in a state of nervous tension.
  • Pregnancy. Multiple pregnancies shift the body's center of gravity further. With a weak muscle corset, the risk of dystrophic diseases of the spine increases.

neck pain with osteochondrosis


The clinical signs of osteochondrosis depend on the location of the degenerative-dystrophic process. In accordance with this, there are:

  • Cervical osteochondrosis. Refers to the most frequent localization of the disease due to the great mobility of the neck vertebrae.
  • Thoracic osteochondrosis. It is detected less often compared to cervical and lumbosacral osteochondrosis.
  • Lumbosacral osteochondrosis. This type of disease accounts for about 50% of all diagnosed cases.
Cervical osteochondrosis Thoracic osteochondrosis Lumbosacral osteochondrosis
Pain syndrome The localization of pain in osteochondrosis of the cervical spine is various. The most common pain syndrome is in the cervical region, the upper shoulder girdle. Headaches and dizziness may occur. The severity of the clinical sign depends on the degree of degenerative-dystrophic disease of the spine. The severity of the pain can vary from aching, pulling to stabbing, sharp. It intensifies with active movements or for a long time in an uncomfortable position. With thoracic osteochondrosis, the pain radiates to the lower back, chest, shoulders For lumbosacral osteochondrosis, painful pulling pains in the lower back, radiating to the gluteal and inguinal regions, are characteristic. Pain syndrome increases with stress on the spine. With prolonged flexion, the pain does not allow extension movements.
Altered skin sensitivity Nerve roots are compressed under the influence of destructive vertebrae. There is a tingling sensation and numbness in the affected area. A one-sided decrease or increase in skin sensitivity appears. These symptoms in thoracic osteochondrosis are expressed quite clearly. The sensitivity of the skin may be decreased or increased. Pinching of the nerve roots as a result of spinal dystrophy leads to impaired sensitivity in the lumbar region, buttocks, as well as in the lower extremities. This clinical sign can be seen as an increase or decrease in the sensitivity of the skin.
Muscular weakness A symptom of muscle weakness occurs due to compression of the spinal roots. Movement disorders appear in the arms and shoulders. Most often, the lesion is unilateral. The defeat of the thoracic spine causes a weakening of the muscle corset. The muscles of the abdomen, lower limbs and back are most often affected. A decrease in muscle tone is accompanied by a decrease in tendon reflexes, thinning of the muscle mass of the lower limbs. As osteochondrosis develops, muscle atrophy occurs.
Circulatory disorders Vertebral artery syndrome occurs when an artery that supplies the brain is blocked. This is due to the unstable position of the vertebrae in the cervical spine. Symptomatic vertebral artery syndrome is manifested by dizziness, headache, nausea, heaviness in the head, tinnitus. In addition, a feeling of lump in the throat and swallowing problems are extremely rare. Pain in the thoracic spine causes vascular spasms in the lower limbs. Symptomatically, this results in "creeping creeps, " a tingling and numb sensation in the legs. Osteochondrosis of the lumbosacral spine is characterized by impaired microcirculation in the affected area. This leads to skin whitening of the legs. In the future, stitches, itching in the lower extremities develop.
Vegetative disorders Compression of nerve fibers in the cervical spine leads to increased sweating of the skin, a change in its color. As the disease progresses, there is a sharp burning pain in the extremities, edema syndrome. Pain in the thoracic spine causes vascular spasms in the lower limbs. Symptomatically, this results in "creeping creeps, " a tingling and numb sensation in the legs. This clinical symptom occurs as a result of compression of the nerve roots. In this regard, the lower extremity acquires a bluish tint, sweating increases.


The severity of clinical symptoms, as well as the methods of treating osteochondrosis of the spine, depend on the degree of its development. In accordance with this, there are:

To organise Clinical symptoms What happens to the spine
The first one The preclinical stage of spinal osteochondrosis does not have specific clinical symptoms. There may be slight discomfort in the back, fatigue with excessive physical exertion. In this regard, the detection of osteochondrosis in the first stage is extremely rare. Pathological changes in the spine are just starting to form. Their determination is possible thanks to instrumental research.
The second Severe pain appears in the area of the affected spine. He does not leave without taking painkillers. The pain syndrome increases with physical exertion. It is accompanied by stiffness of movement and limited mobility. This stage is accompanied by trophic disorders in the vertebrae. Their fibers begin to break down, while the height of the intervertebral disc decreases. Such changes contribute to the compression of nerve roots and blood vessels.
Third The pain syndrome becomes more intense. Irradiation of pain appears to other parts of the spine. Symptoms worsen not only with physical exertion, but also with prolonged standing or sitting. At this stage of spinal osteochondrosis, sensitivity disorders may appear. A protrusion appears due to the destruction of the fibrous ring of the vertebrae. The process spreads to nerve fibers, causing them to pinch. The further development of the disease leads to a hernia. In the third step, the vertebrae can be moved relative to each other.
Fourth Acute pain syndrome makes it difficult for independent mobility. There is a stable alteration in sensitivity, depending on the affected segment of the spine. The fourth stage of osteochondrosis is chronic and occurs with frequent relapses. The degree of degenerative-dystrophic processes reaches its maximum. There is an irreversible destruction of the vertebrae and their displacement with respect to each other. The chronic form of osteochondrosis is accompanied by the appearance of bone growths on the vertebrae, leading to compression of nerves and blood vessels.


The lack of treatment for osteochondrosis of the spine and non-compliance with the recommendations for its prevention contribute to the development of complications. This situation considerably worsens the prognosis for recovery. The main complications of osteochondrosis include:

  • Hernia formation. Refers to the most frequently diagnosed complications of osteochondrosis. A herniated disc forms as a result of the displacement of the disc nucleus outside of the annulus fibrosus. The severity of symptoms depends on the size and location of the formation. Most often, the hernia is complicated by the lumbosacral spine.
  • The appearance of protuberances. This condition precedes the formation of a hernia of the spine. Protrusions occur in connection with trophic disorders in the vertebral region. This leads to a decrease in its height, elasticity and the appearance of cracks.
  • Radiculitis. Inflammation of the roots of the spinal cord occurs as a result of their pinching. Radiculitis is accompanied by severe pain and severe limitation of mobility. In addition, sensory disturbances can occur.
  • Muscular atrophy of the limbs. A decrease in the muscle mass of the limbs occurs due to a violation of their blood supply.
  • Paralysis of the lower limbs. A severe degree of osteochondrosis is accompanied by severe degenerative-dystrophic changes in the vertebrae. This leads to pinching of the nerve roots. The extreme degree of impairment of the sensitivity of the limbs is their paralysis.
  • Stroke. However, it is rare that there is a tendency to "rejuvenate" this diagnosis. Violation of blood circulation in the spine due to osteochondrosis can lead to the development of ischemia of the spinal cord.

The development of complications of osteochondrosis of the spine occurs quite often due to the late search for medical help. In this regard, experts recommend to undergo a diagnostic study in the presence of the first signs of the disease.

symptoms of osteochondrosis of the spine


In order to identify the presence of osteochondrosis of the spine, specialists use laboratory and instrumental diagnostic methods. Among them are:

  • Collection of complaints and history of the disease. The main clinical manifestations of osteochondrosis, the time of onset of symptoms, as well as the predisposing factors for the development of the disease are clarified.
  • Inspection. The posture is examined for the presence of a curvature of the spine. Next, the skin is examined for skin hyperemia in the affected area. With the help of palpation of the paravertebral points of the spine, the segment of the lesion is determined. A tingling with a needle is used to detect a violation of sensitivity.
  • X-ray examination. This method of studying osteochondrosis of the spine is one of the standard diagnostic measures. With its help, it is possible to determine the presence of narrowing of the intervertebral cracks, hernias, as well as a decrease in the height of the spinal disc.
  • CT, MRI. Magnetic resonance imaging is considered to be the most informative method for diagnosing herniated discs. With the help of MRI, the location of the hernia and its size are determined.

The modern hospital has a full range of diagnostic tests necessary to identify osteochondrosis of the spine. The latest equipment allows you to accurately diagnose the affected area, as well as the presence or absence of complications of degenerative-dystrophic disease. Based on the data obtained, experienced neurologists and vertebrologists prescribe individual treatment, selected depending on the stage of the disease.


Treatment of degenerative-dystrophic diseases of the spine depends on the affected area. The following treatment is common to all types of osteochondrosis:

  1. Drug therapy.
  2. Physiotherapy.
  3. Massage.
  4. Physiotherapy.

Treatment for osteochondrosis is aimed at relieving symptoms. This is achieved through the analgesic and anti-inflammatory action of drugs. The composition of the treatment for osteochondrosis includes:

  • Medication. To achieve analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect, drugs from the group of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are prescribed. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used in tablet form, injectable form, or topical ointment form. To relieve muscle spasms in osteochondrosis of the cervical spine, muscle relaxants are prescribed. Drugs in this group relieve muscle hypertonia that occurs in response to pain syndrome. In addition, the use of chondroprotective courses is included in the complex drug treatment of the disease. Their goal is to restore joint and cartilage tissue. Drugs of the chondroprotective group prevent further destruction of the vertebrae.
  • Physiotherapy. Complex therapy of osteochondrosis of the cervical spine includes physiotherapeutic procedures. To do this, name: Electrophoresis. Under the influence of a weak current, transdermal penetration of the analgesic into the body occurs. Magnetotherapy. The procedure involves exposing the neck area to a low-frequency magnetic field. As a result, an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect is obtained. Paraffin wraps. Therapeutic wraps are done to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Massage. The purpose of massaging the cervical neck area is to improve blood circulation in the affected area, relieve muscle tone, and restore trophism to the spine. Neck massage is contraindicated in the acute period. It should be included in the osteochondrosis treatment complex during the period when clinical symptoms subside. The massage technique should be gentle and gentle, rough and painful movements are excluded.
  • Physiotherapy. Gymnastics of the cervical spine reduces the risk of the appearance and exacerbation of osteochondrosis. Through the systematic implementation of physiotherapy exercises, the muscles of the neck are strengthened, the mobility of the vertebrae improves, and muscle spasms are relieved.

To relieve the symptoms of cervical osteochondrosis, orthopedic products are used. These include:

  • Orthopedic pillow. Improper position of the head during sleep causes exacerbation of osteochondrosis of the cervical spine. In order to minimize this risk of recurrence, the use of an orthopedic pillow is recommended. The height and stiffness are individually selected according to the preference of the sleeping position.
  • Orthopedic mattress. In addition to an orthopedic pillow, you should choose a comfortable mattress. The choice is made according to the stage of the disease. The rigidity and filling of the orthopedic mattress must be taken into account.
  • Corset. To relieve pain in osteochondrosis of the spine, it is recommended to wear a support corset. In addition, the use of this orthopedic product is indicated for injuries, surgeries of the spine. The duration of wearing the corset is determined by the doctor depending on the stage of the disease.
  • Shant collar. It is used for osteochondrosis of the cervical spine. The main indication for the use of the collar is vertebral artery syndrome. The choice of collar is made according to the rigidity and the desired neck height. Wearing a Shant collar relieves headaches, dizziness, and noise in the head that occurs when the cervical spine is affected.

The above funds are designed to relieve the symptoms of the disease and minimize the number of exacerbations of osteochondrosis of the spine. The choice of orthopedic products is made according to the location of the disease and its degree of progression. Recommendations on fundraising are given by the attending physician after a diagnostic study.

Operative treatment

The main type of surgery for osteochondrosis of the cervical spine is discectomy. Its essence lies in the removal of the destroyed intervertebral disc with another immobile fixation of the adjacent vertebrae by fusion. In this case, the surgical operation will prevent the further development of the degenerative-dystrophic process.

An operation called a microdiscectomy is very similar to a discectomy. It is carried out using a special microscope. In the disc, the surgeon makes a small incision through which a fragment of the nucleus pulposus is removed. At the same time, the tissues are little damaged, which reduces the risk of complications after the operation.

In some cases, a discectomy is performed using an endoscope. It is performed with a single-level lesion of a fragment of the spine. During the operation, the tissues are practically not damaged, and the patient comes out only a few days after the operation.

Sometimes a laminectomy is performed along with a discectomy, which involves the removal of a piece of bone tissue. Such an operation leads to the formation of an empty space, due to which the pressure of the patient on the nerve decreases and, as a result, the pain syndrome disappears.

Laminectomy is a complex operation.

physiotherapy for the treatment of osteochondrosis

Rehabilitation after surgery

The operation as part of the osteochondrosis treatment program is one of the most complex surgical procedures. It is accompanied by a high risk of complications, including infection, damage to the meninges.

With an anterior cervical approach, there is a risk of damage to the airways, voice, or damage to the esophagus. In cases where spondylosis has not been achieved, the fusion of the vertebrae is very difficult.

Even after a successful operation, it is necessary to monitor the patient's condition in a hospital setting. How long it will take to spend within the walls of the hospital, doctors determine individually for each patient. It is necessary to understand that spine surgery is the most difficult surgical procedure. Therefore, after its execution, a person should be under the supervision of doctors around the clock.

The rehabilitation period also includes various physiotherapy procedures and physiotherapy exercises.


In order to minimize the risk of exacerbation of osteochondrosis of the spine, it is necessary to adhere to the recommendations for the prevention of the disease. These include:

  • Active lifestyle. Regular and adequate physical activity is necessary to strengthen the muscle corset. This lightens the load on the spine. Sports activities improve the mobility of the vertebrae, which is necessary to prevent exacerbation of osteochondrosis.
  • Massage. Degenerative-dystrophic disease of the spine causes muscle spasms. In order to get rid of the symptom, as well as reduce the risk of its exacerbation, you need to regularly take a massage course. An experienced massage therapist chooses massage tactics depending on the affected area and the presence of concomitant pathology.
  • Weight control. Being overweight puts additional stress on the spine, increasing the severity of symptoms. Therefore, a timely fight against obesity is needed.
  • Fight against postural disorders from early childhood. Scoliosis is a predisposing factor for the development of spinal osteochondrosis. Most often, the curvature of the spine is observed from early childhood. The prevention of scoliosis is done from the school bench. This measure minimizes the risk of developing osteochondrosis.
  • Balanced and rational diet. A full menu is needed to achieve two goals. The first is to ensure an adequate intake of minerals, vitamins and trace elements. Inclusion in the diet of foods rich in calcium, protein, magnesium is necessary for the prevention of destructive diseases of the spine, muscle spasms. The second goal of a balanced and balanced diet is the control of excess weight, which negatively affects the condition of the spine.
  • Labor regime. In the presence of pathology of the spine, it is necessary to limit heavy physical labor. If this is not possible, use a supportive brace to relieve stress on the spine. When you are sitting for a long time, it is recommended to take a break periodically to do light physical exercises.

These preventive measures will reduce the possibility of the appearance or recurrence of osteochondrosis of the spine.