Spondylosis refers to the conditions that occur as a result of spinal degeneration. Think of it as an umbrella term describing the symptoms of these conditions.
Spondylosis can describe degeneration in the following areas:
- Neck – cervical spondylosis
- Lower back – lumbar spondylosis
- Middle back – thoracic spondylosis
Spinal osteoarthritis causes most symptoms of spondylosis, but there can be other causes as well.
Small joints located between and behind adjacent vertebrae, called facet joints, are highlighted here in purple. They are the part of the spine that are most often affected by spinal osteoarthritis.
If the cartilage between the facet joints breaks down, the bones grind against each other and cause friction and loss of mobility.
Over time, the friction may lead to the development of osteophytes, or bone spurs. These bone spurs may press on surrounding spinal nerves, muscles, or ligaments, and cause pain.
Problems with the facet joints can lead to spondylolisthesis in the lower back.
This image shows spondylolisthesis, in which the vertebrae above is slipping over the one beneath.
This image shows how the slippage described above can cause vertebrae to press on and irritate the sciatic nerve, sending pain down the buttocks and legs. These symptoms are referred to as sciatica.
Another cause of spondylosis is spinal stenosis, pictured here. Spinal stenosis occurs when a spinal nerve root becomes compressed as it passes through an opening in the side of each vertebra, called a foramen.
Spondylosis may also refer to degenerative changes in the disc called degenerative disc disease. This image shows how a spinal disc begins to thin, lose moisture, and break down. In this case, pain may result from the disc itself, or from the biomechanics of the spine.
Spondylosis is not a medical diagnosis. Instead, it is a term that is used to describe the degenerative changes which can occur in your spine.