What is osteochondrosis

Neck pain with osteochondrosis of the spine

One of the most common causes of back pain is osteochondrosis. According to statistics, about 80% of people suffer from this pathology. However, not all patients can answer exactly what osteochondrosis is. This is a chronic disease that affects the cartilage and bone tissue of the spine. Degenerative-dystrophic changes can affect any part of the spine or several at the same time.

In order to quickly get rid of the disease, you need to start treatment when the first signs of pathology appear. However, many people simply do not notice them, then the pathology develops and becomes more serious.

Osteochondrosis needs to be treated in a complex way: drugs, exercise therapy, physical therapy, etc. In case of complications (intervertebral hernia, sciatica, paralysis of the legs), surgery may be required.

What's this

Osteochondrosis is a chronic disease that damages the discs and bones of the spine.

The spine consists of 33-35 vertebrae, between which there are cartilage pads (intervertebral discs). They consist of the nucleus pulposus and the annulus fibrosus (outer area), they are covered on both sides with a dense, elastic vitreous cartilage. Thanks to the intervertebral discs, the spine becomes more elastic and mobile.

With osteochondrosis, there is a violation of metabolic processes and blood circulation in the spine. Under the influence of negative factors, the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae become less durable, elastic, and their volume decreases. The spine is compressed and the height of the cartilage pads is reduced.

The central gelatinous part of the intervertebral disc first swells, and then dries up, then the depreciation of the spine is disturbed. The outer shell becomes thinner, cracks appear. When the gelatinous substance seeps in there, protrusions (protrusions) are formed. When the outer portion of the disc is ruptured and the nucleus pulposus prolapses, a herniated disc is diagnosed.

Osteochondrosis disease is manifested by discomfort, reduced mobility and pain in the affected area. When hernias occur, neurological disorders appear: back pain spreading to the upper or lower limbs, numbness in the arms, legs, groin, involuntary urination or defecation, etc.

Reference. Previously, osteochondrosis was diagnosed mainly in patients over 40 years of age. Now the disease is increasingly being diagnosed in people at a younger age (from 16 to 30 years old). This is usually associated with a sedentary lifestyle.


Degenerative-dystrophic changes in cartilage and bone tissue occur due to an uneven load on the elements of the spine. Then the intervertebral discs are destroyed in areas with overpressure. The pathological process can be caused by many negative factors.

Fall as a cause of osteochondrosis of the spine

The main causes of osteochondrosis:

  • Injuries after a fall or impact.
  • Congenital anomalies of the spine, genetic predisposition.
  • Violation of metabolic processes due to malnutrition, the appearance of excess weight.
  • infectious diseases.
  • Excessive strain on the spine during weight training or heavy physical work.
  • Chemicals that enter the body with food or through the air.
  • Frequent vibrations, for example from drivers.
  • flat feet.
  • Wrong posture.
  • Passive lifestyle, for example in people with sedentary jobs (office workers, drivers).
  • Smoking.
  • Prolonged impact on the body of adverse weather conditions (low temperature and high humidity).
  • Wearing anatomically incorrect shoes (tight or with heels).
  • Frequent stress.
  • pregnancy etc.

Often the disease manifests itself in people who carry weights in one hand, are in the wrong position for a long time, sleep on too soft a mattress or a high pillow. The probability of contracting the disease increases with age-related changes associated with metabolic processes or the blood supply to the vertebrae. This risk increases when a person frequently changes the position of the body, bends, relaxes, and jerks the body.

Reference. Osteochondrosis is often diagnosed in tall people who stoop and have a weak muscular corset. And loaders, professional athletes, construction workers, office workers also fall into the risk group.

Types of osteochondrosis

As already mentioned, the pathology can affect different parts of the spine. Depending on the localization, the following types of osteochondrosis are distinguished:

  • Lumbar - This is the most common type of disease, since the load on the lumbosacral segment is quite high. The pathology is accompanied by pain in the lower back, which can spread to the legs and groin. In later stages, neurological disorders appear (impaired sensitivity of the lower body).
  • Neck - also common. Degenerative-dystrophic changes are associated with weakness of the neck muscles, therefore, even with minimal exposure, there is a risk of vertebral displacement. It manifests itself in pain that can radiate to the upper limbs, headache, hearing and vision disorders.
  • Thorax - the rarest form of pathology. This is because the mobility of the thoracic segment is minimal, in addition it is protected by the ribs, back and abdominal muscles. It is quite difficult to identify the disease, since its symptoms are similar to other diseases.

And there is also osteochondrosis of several departments or the entire spine at once. This type of disease has the most severe course.

Reference. According to medical statistics, osteochondrosis of the lumbar segment occurs in 50% of patients, cervical - 25%, chest - up to 10%. In 12% of cases, several sections of the spine are affected at the same time.

Classification of osteochondrosis according to its stage:

  • 1st stage- the initial stage of the pathology, which is manifested by dehydration of the pulp core, a decrease in the height of the cartilaginous lining and the appearance of cracks in its outer part. It is very difficult to diagnose the disease at this stage, since pronounced symptoms are not yet present. The patient experiences slight discomfort in the damaged area when being in a certain position for a long time or actively moving. Pathology has a sluggish course, a latent form. It is discovered incidentally during an X-ray, MRI or CT scan of the back.
  • 2 steps- At this stage, the gap between the vertebrae decreases, the surrounding muscles and ligaments sag, the likelihood of protrusions and displacement of the elements of the spine increases. The cartilage lining begins to degrade, which is accompanied by pain. In the absence of appropriate therapy, displaced discs or vertebrae can compress nerve bundles, muscles and blood vessels. It is much easier to detect the disease at this stage. Conducted complex conservative therapy.
  • 3 steps- The outer part of the intervertebral disc is destroyed, protrusions, hernias are formed. In addition, the risk of subluxations increases, arthrosis of the intervertebral joints can develop. The patient develops severe pain that can spread to the upper or lower extremities, sensitivity is disturbed (tingling or numbness).
  • 4 levels- Due to the excessive flexibility of the spinal joints, bone growths appear in the areas of contact, so the body tries to improve the fixation of adjacent vertebrae. Osteophytes often pinch the nerve bundles, injure the elements of the spine. The risk of ankylosis increases, then joint immobility occurs. The patient develops severe pain, neurological disorders, it is difficult for him to move. If left untreated, it can become disabled.

Osteochondrosis is a chronic disease that must be detected in time to avoid dangerous complications.


The first signs of the disease are discomfort and a feeling of stiffness in the affected area. The patient's back gets tired faster, pain occurs periodically. Then osteochondrosis of the spine in adults is complemented by other symptoms. The clinical manifestations depend on the stage and localization of the affected area. Therefore, patients need to know how the pathology of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine differs. This allows you to recognize warning signs in good time and seek medical help.

Back pain with osteochondrosis of the spine

Symptoms of spinal osteochondrosis affecting the cervical spine:

  • aching or stabbing pain that may radiate to your upper back, neck, or arms;
  • increased muscle tone around the affected area, which can be felt when touched;
  • cephalgia, which increases with movement and is not stopped by analgesics;
  • dizziness with sharp twists of the neck;
  • blurred vision, manifested by "flies" or spots in front of the eyes;
  • hearing problems (noise or ringing in the ears);
  • weakening of the neck or shoulder muscles;
  • violation of the sensitivity of the throat, hands;
  • In rare cases, the patient's tongue swells and becomes numb.

This type of pathology is more often observed in office workers.

Clinical manifestations of osteochondrosis of the lumbosacral segment:

  • aching or stabbing pain in your lower back;
  • Discomfort increases when the patient moves;
  • pain syndrome can spread to the lower body (buttocks, groin, legs);
  • neurological disorders, which are manifested by numbness, tingling, coldness in the groin, buttocks, legs;
  • Weakening, thinning of the leg muscles.

In some cases, due to severe pain, the patient cannot straighten his back, turn or bend over. He tries to take a position in which the discomfort is relieved.

Degenerative-dystrophic changes in the thoracic segment of the spine are accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • periodic acute chest pains, shoulder blades increasing with raising the upper limbs, stooping;
  • pain syndrome becomes more pronounced at night after hypothermia, physical exertion;
  • violation of skin sensitivity;
  • chest tightness;
  • During movement, there may be severe pain between the ribs.

Reference. Patients often confuse thoracic osteochondrosis with heart disease. However, during the first pathology, the pain increases with breathing and is not relieved by nitroglycerin.

When several parts of the spine are affected at the same time, specific symptoms appear.

treatment methods

After the doctor made a diagnosis of "osteochondrosis", you need to start treatment. The treatment plan is drawn up by the doctor, taking into account the severity of the disease, its causes and the general condition of the patient.

During diagnosis, the following methods are used:

  • radiography.
  • CT or MRI.
  • Ultrasound of the spine.
  • myelography.
  • neurological tests.

In addition, laboratory tests can be assigned to the patient.

Treatment of osteochondrosis of the spine should be comprehensive. Depending on the severity, it lasts from 4 to 8 weeks, then maintenance therapy is carried out for a long period (about a year). This will help consolidate results and prevent relapses.

What to do with osteochondrosis, the attending physician will tell you. Treatment, as a rule, begins with conservative methods: taking medication, performing therapeutic exercises, conducting physical therapy, massage, etc. Surgical intervention is performed only in cases where pain does not go away for a long time after drug treatment, neurological disorderspresent or the disease is progressing rapidly.

Conservative techniques will help get rid of pain and other unpleasant symptoms, normalize the functionality of the spine and prevent complications.

Drugs weaken the symptoms of the disease, improve blood circulation, tissue trophism, and accelerate the healing of damaged areas. For this purpose, the following drugs are used:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Antispasmodics help relax tight muscles and relieve pain.
  • Preparations with an antioxidant effect, eg vitamin C, tocopherol, thioctic acid.
  • To improve blood supply to the damaged area, vasodilators are used, as well as B vitamins.
  • To speed up recovery or stop the further development of degenerative processes, chondroprotectors, drugs based on hyaluronic acid, glucosamine, chondroitin are used.

Reference. The fight against severe pain is carried out with the help of therapeutic blockades. The drug is injected into the affected area. If steroid drugs are added to local anesthetics, the therapeutic effect lasts longer. This therapy method is used when traditional methods (medication, rest, physiotherapy) are ineffective.

The following conservative methods will help in the treatment of osteochondrosis:

  • Physiotherapeutic procedures help relieve pain and increase the effectiveness of drugs. In addition, they are used during the period of remission, when there are no pronounced symptoms. Ultrasound, laser treatment, magnetotherapy, diadynamic therapy, electrophoresis with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs are most often used.
  • Therapeutic gymnastics helps to correct posture, strengthen the muscles of the back, abdomen, sides and ligaments, normalize muscle tone and relieve pain associated with compression of nerve bundles. Regular exercise helps improve blood circulation, nourish damaged discs and speed up their recovery.
  • Kinesitherapy - safe exercises on special simulators. This technique allows you to remove the axial load from the spine, restore microcirculation in the deep muscles, relieve pain, spasms and swelling, and normalize the functionality of the damaged area.

Important. A set of exercises for osteochondrosis is made by a doctor individually for each patient. It is recommended that the training be conducted under the supervision of an instructor.

Massage for osteochondrosis of the spine
  • Massage also helps to combat osteochondrosis as part of complex therapy. Therapeutic procedures improve blood circulation in the spine, relax spasmodic muscles and improve tissue trophy. A very popular water body massage, which, in addition to the above effects, normalizes the state of the nervous system.
  • Manual therapy is the action of the therapist's hands on the patient's body. Therapeutic techniques are selected separately for each patient. After a course of treatment, blood circulation normalizes, metabolic processes in the damaged area improve, its mobility is corrected, immunity is strengthened. Manual therapy helps prevent complications of osteochondrosis. The main thing is to find an experienced specialist.
  • Traction is the lengthening of the spine with the help of weights and special simulators. The procedure helps to eliminate the displacement of the vertebrae, increase the intervertebral space and correct injuries to the structure of the spine.
  • Acupuncture - the action on biologically active points of the body with thin sterile needles. Acupuncture helps loosen tight muscles and relieve pain.

To improve the condition, the patient is recommended to sleep on an orthopedic mattress. If work involves sitting for a long time, you need to buy a chair with an orthopedic backrest, get up regularly and do exercises for your back. In addition, stress and hypothermia should be avoided.

Chondrosis and osteochondrosis: what's the difference?

Chondrosis and osteochondrosis are related diseases. However, many patients do not understand the difference.

Chondrosis of the back is a disease in which cartilage tissue is affected. With osteochondrosis, degenerative-dystrophic changes extend to the vertebrae and surrounding tissues. This is the main difference between these two pathologies. That is, chondrosis is the first stage of osteochondrosis.

The causes of chondrosis and osteochondrosis do not differ. However, they appear different.

With chondrosis, cartilage wears out, its composition changes, or it becomes thinner. For this reason, the intervertebral discs can no longer fully fulfill their shock-absorbing function.

Now you know what are the differences between chondrosis and osteochondrosis.

Symptoms of chondrosis

As already mentioned, it is very difficult to identify the pathology at the first stage, since it has an erased history. Therefore, chondrosis is more often detected when bone tissue is affected, that is, osteochondrosis develops.

Chondrosis of the spine is manifested by such symptoms:

  • increased back fatigue;
  • incorrect posture;
  • a slight violation of the mobility of the spine in the damaged area;
  • occasional mild back pain.

It is recommended to consult a doctor if you notice at least one manifestation of the disease. Then it is possible to stop the process of cartilage destruction.

To detect chondrosis, an X-ray or MRI is recommended. The latter study is more informative, since you can notice the slightest changes in the structure of the cartilage.

Treatment of chondrosis

So that chondrosis does not turn into osteochondrosis, complex treatment is required. For this purpose, the patient is prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs, chondroprotectors, vitamins. Movement therapy helps to improve the mobility of the spine and strengthen the muscles. The therapy can be supplemented by physiotherapeutic procedures and foot reflex zone massage.


Most patients who started treatment of the disease in a timely manner are satisfied with the results of therapy. Pain and stiffness in the spine disappeared. But in order to achieve such results, a whole series of measures are required.

  • Male, 38 years old: "I was diagnosed with stage 2 osteochondrosis of the lower back. The doctor prescribed injections for 1. 5 months and 10 massage sessions. He also began doing therapeutic exercises. After the course the pain was gone. In a month I will repeat the course to consolidate the result.
  • Woman, 45 years old: "I could not sit up because of osteochondrosis pain. The doctor prescribed me injections, massage, magnetotherapy. And I also tried to do exercises every day, took chondroprotectors. After the end of the course, the pain disappeared.
  • Woman, 44 years old: "I have cervical osteochondrosis, which I managed to get rid of twice. Conducted complex treatment: medication, physiotherapy, massage, exercise therapy, swimming pool. But 3 years after the last treatment, severe pain and numbness appeared in the neck, shoulder blade and arm. I went to the doctor after the MRI showed a hernia. I was referred to a neurosurgeon who scheduled surgery. After the protrusion was removed, she was rehabilitated. It's been a year now and nothing bothers me. "

The most important

Osteochondrosis is an insidious disease that is difficult to recognize at stage 1 and can be confused with other pathologies. It is better to consult a doctor when the first signs of the disease appear (discomfort, stiffness in the damaged area), then it will be easier to cure them. It is important to conduct complex therapy: medication, exercise therapy, massage, physiotherapy, manual therapy, etc. If conservative methods do not help for more than 6 months, there are neurological disorders or other serious complications, then surgery is imperative.