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Spondylosis

Spondylosis Overview

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Spondylosis literally means stiffening or fixation of the bony building blocks of the spine (vertebrae) as the result of a disease process. 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 which 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: inflammation of one or more vertebrae, such as in ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory arthritis of the spine. This is a very different process than spondylosis because spondylosis is degenerative while spondylitis is inflammatory.
  • Spondylolysis: 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: forward or backward displacement of the body of one of the lower lumbar vertebrae on the vertebra below it, or on the sacrum. 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.
  • Spondylosis deformans: growth of bone spurs (osteophytes) or bony bridges around a degenerating intervertebral disc in the spine
  • Spinal stenosis: 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.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/26/2013

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