Listening to the body

What are the basic causes and symptoms of osteochondrosis?

If people have back pain, they have osteochondrosis. What are the basic causes and symptoms of this complex condition?
If people have back pain, they have osteochondrosis. What are the basic causes and symptoms of this complex condition?
S.Pavlovsky, Bobruisk

Osteochondrosis refers to dystrophic abnormalities in articular cartilage, which usually affect intervertebral discs. Depending on location, it is possible to single out cervical, thoracic and lumbar osteochondrosis. In English-speaking medical literature, the term refers to another group of orthopaedic diseases, called osteochondropathies in Russian.

Spinal osteochondrosis is initially evident in incorrect posture. As we age, our vascular physiologically changes, breaking alimentation in intervertebral discs and losing cartilage elasticity and strength, resulting in form and structure changes.

Poor diet, injury, overloading and irrational or asymmetrical demands on the muscles in our back can be harmful to our discs. Incorrect posture, carrying heavy shoulder bags, using soft pillows and mattresses, and failing to warm up before exercise can all cause back injury.

Flat-footedness can be a cause, since the foot fails to provide proper amortisation. Obesity is also a factor, with fatty tissue accumulating; it complicates balance and overloads intervertebral joints. Other causes are likely, but it seems that most people feel symptoms after the age of 35: and with increasing regularity with greater age. However, in recent years, ever more people aged 18 to 30 years have been coming to doctors to complain of back pain. Back injury and straining (either static or through movement), as well as vibration, aggravate the condition. Early display of the disease may be due to weak physical condition, fault in posture and spinal curvature, flat-footedness or being overweight.

The main causes are as follows:
  • Hereditary (genetic) predisposition;
  • Metabolic imbalance in the organism, infections, and intoxication;
  • Being overweight;
  • Poor diet (lack of trace elements and hydration);
  • Age;
  • Backbone injuries (including fracture);
  • Poor posture, spinal curvature, superfluous movability (instability) of segments of backbone, or flat-footedness;
  • Adverse ecological conditions;
  • Inactivity;
  • The lifting of weights, or repetitive or sudden movement (turning, bending or stretching);
  • Standing, sitting or lying in uncomfortable positions; 
  • Lifting and carrying of weight, or other work placing pressure on discs and the spine;
  • Excessive physical loads; 
  • An unevenly developed musculoskeletal system;
  • Backbone overloading connected with diseases of the feet;
  • Wearing uncomfortable footwear, including high heels;
  • Pregnancy; 
  • An immediate end of regular training for sportsmen;
  • Nerve strain, and stressful situations;
  • Smoking.

People suffering from osteochondrosis complain of constant aching back pain, often accompanied by numbness and aching of the extremities. In the absence of adequate treatment, there may be weight loss or atrophy of the extremities.

Basic displays of osteochondrosis:
  • Constant aching back pain; 
  • Numbness and aching extremities;
  • Increased pain from sudden movement, physical activity, weight lifting, coughing or sneezing;
  • Reduced flexibility, and muscle cramps.
Osteochondrosis of the cervical spine brings pains in the hands and shoulders, and headaches. Vertebral artery syndrome may be accompanied by head noises, dizziness, colourful spots before the eyes, and a pulsing headache. It is often caused by bone enlargement, intervertebral disc hernia, arthrosis of the intervertebral joint, and by sudden movement following stimulation of spinal receptors. It can aggravate coronary or cardio-muscular pathologies and arterial hypertension.

Osteochondrosis of the thoracic backbone brings thorax pain (as of something being stuck in the chest area).

Osteochondrosis of the lumbosacral backbone brings pain around the waist, extending to the sacrum and lower extremities, and sometimes into the pelvis. It affects the nerve roots (for discal hernia and bone enlargements), and brings shooting pain and extreme sensitivity, as well as muscle weakness, and slower reflexes.

Complications include disc hernia (spinal disc herniation or backbone hernia), kyphosis (spinal curvature), and radiculitis.

Next time, we will discuss methods of treatment and prevention of osteochondrosis.

By Tatiana Zhukova 
Doctor of higher category,
M.D. Ph.D.
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