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Spondylosis Facts

  • Spondylosis refers to degenerative changes in the spine such as bone spurs and degenerating intervertebral discs.
  • Spondylosis changes in the spine are frequently referred to as osteoarthritis. For example, the phrase "spondylosis of the lumbar spine" means degenerative changes such as osteoarthritis of the vertebral joints and degenerating intervertebral discs (degenerative disc disease) in the low back.
  • Spondylosis can occur in the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper and mid back), or lumbar spine (low back). Lumbar spondylosis and cervical spondylosis are the most common.
    • Thoracic spondylosis frequently does not cause symptoms.
    • Lumbosacral spondylosis is spondylosis that affects both the lumbar spine and the sacral spine (below the lumbar spine, in the midline between the buttocks).
  • Multilevel spondylosis means that these changes affect multiple vertebrae in the spine.
  • There are several medical terms that sound similar to and are often confused with spondylosis including the following:
    • Spondylitis is inflammation of one or more vertebrae, such as in ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory form of arthritis of the spine. This is a very different process than spondylosis because spondylosis is degenerative while spondylitis is inflammatory.
    • Spondylolysis is incomplete development and formation of the connecting part of the vertebra, the pars interarticularis. This defect predisposes to spondylolisthesis (see below) because of spinal instability.
    • Spondylolisthesis is forward or backward displacement of the body of one vertebrae in relation to an adjacent vertebra. For example, anterior spondylolisthesis of L4 on L5 means that the fourth lumbar vertebra has slipped forward on the fifth lumbar vertebra. As a result, the spine is not normally aligned. If the displaced vertebrae shift with movement of the spine, this is referred to as dynamic spondylolisthesis. Dynamic shifting of the vertebrae is visualized with X-rays of the spine performed with patients flexing (bending forward) and then extending (bending backward) their back.
    • Spondylosis deformans is growth of bone spurs (osteophytes) or bony bridges around a degenerating intervertebral disc in the spine.
    • Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing of the spinal canal limits the amount of space for the spinal cord and nerves. Pressure on the spinal cord and nerves due to limited space can cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling.
    • Sciatica is pain shooting down the sciatic nerve as it runs from the low back down the buttock and the leg, either on one side or both sides. Sciatica often occurs when a herniated disc puts pressure on the sciatic nerve as it exits the spinal canal in the low back. Sciatica is a specific type of radiculopathy (compression or irritation of nerves as they leave the spinal column). Sciatica can be associated with spondylosis because the degenerative changes in the spine predispose to disc herniation and subsequent nerve compression.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/20/2016

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Bone Spurs

If bone spurs occur in the spine, they can cause pain and loss of motion, but they can also pinch the nerves or spinal cord. When nerves in the spine are pinched, it is known as radiculopathy. It can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms or legs. If the spinal cord is compressed, it is called myelopathy. This can cause problems with balance, weakness, and pain.

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