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What Is Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is a term that describes degeneration of your spine, usually as a result of aging. Wear and tear on your spinal column, which is made of stacked bones called vertebrae and cartilage pads, can lead to pain and other symptoms. The condition can affect your neck, mid back or low back.

Spondylosis care in the Puget Sound: Why choose us?

People throughout Puget Sound and the surrounding region turn to us for our expertise in spine care. We have extensive experience diagnosing and treating degenerative spine conditions, including spinal arthritis. Our multidisciplinary team includes physiatrists (doctors with specialized expertise in physical medicine and rehabilitation), spine surgeons, physical therapists, pain management specialists and other experts. They work together to build a treatment plan that works for you.

What are the symptoms of spondylosis?

Many people don’t have any problems with spinal osteoarthritis. But others experience a range of symptoms that can affect their quality of life, including: 

  • Neck or back pain
  • Popping or grating between spine joints
  • Reduced range of motion in your back or neck
  • Spine stiffness
  • Tingling or numbness in your limbs
  • Weakness in your arms or legs

Spondylosis vs. spondylolisthesis

Spondylosis and spondylolisthesis sound similar, but spondylosis is general spine degeneration, whereas spondylolisthesis means a bone in your spine has slipped out of place. Sometimes spondylosis causes spondylolisthesis. Degenerated intervertebral discs (cartilage pads between vertebrae) and spinal joints can cause vertebrae to move out of their normal alignment. Spine fractures and other trauma can also lead to spondylolisthesis. 

While spondylosis is more common in older adults, spondylolisthesis often occurs in young athletes who participate in gymnastics, football or other high-impact activities.

What causes spondylosis?

The natural aging process is the most common cause of spinal arthritis. Over time, your spongy intervertebral discs lose strength and elasticity. 

As they break down, discs can herniate (tear). In addition, cartilage loss in your spinal joints can cause adjacent vertebrae to rub against each other. The friction can lead to extra bone growth, called bone spurs. 

Herniated discs or bone spurs can narrow the space in the spinal canal, a condition called spinal stenosis. Any of these anatomical changes may cause nerve root compression and painful symptoms.

Spondylosis risk factors

Everyone can expect some degree of spinal degeneration as they age. But you may be more likely to develop spondylosis if you: 

  • Are over age 50
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have a family history of spondylosis
  • Have had previous neck or back injuries
  • Have osteoarthritis elsewhere in your body
  • Overuse your spinal joints
  • Smoke

Spondylosis diagnosis

Your doctor may diagnose spondylosis based on your age, symptoms and medical history. During a physical exam, your doctor checks your spinal alignment. They also check your arms and legs for muscle strength, reflexes and range of motion. 

In most cases, imaging exams aren’t necessary. But your doctor may order an X-ray, MRI or CT scan if they want more information about the severity of spondylosis. These imaging tests show detailed images of your vertebrae, intervertebral discs, facet joints and spinal cord.

Spondylosis treatments

There aren't any treatments that can reverse degeneration in your spine. But, many non-surgical therapies can relieve pain and help you manage symptoms so you can remain active and enjoy a higher quality of life. In rare cases, we may need to do surgery if spondylosis is causing severe nerve pain.

  • Many people find relief from conservative, at-home spondylosis treatments such as: 

    • Gentle stretching
    • Ice and heat
    • Massage
    • Neck or back braces (only for short-term use)
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs 
    • Rest
  • Your care team at our Spine Program can connect you to a range of non-surgical treatments at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. Many of our patients have excellent success with a combination of: 

    • Epidural or facet joint steroid injections
    • Oral corticosteroids or muscle relaxants
    • Physical therapy
  • Surgery for spondylosis is uncommon. We reserve surgery for people with nerve or spinal cord compression. Most procedures for spinal arthritis remove extra bone or intervertebral disc material so your nerves have more room. 

    In some cases, we recommend a spinal fusion. This procedure uses stabilizing hardware and bone grafts to fuse part of your spine into a solid segment of bone, so you no longer have pain with joint movement.

    Contact us

    Contact us to learn more about the Spine Program or to schedule an appointment with a specialist.

Contact us

Contact us to learn more about the Spine Program or to schedule an appointment with a specialist.