Osteoarthritis / Spondylosis

Spondylosis is a broad term given to degeneration of the spine column.   Osteoarthritis refers to the most common form of arthritis and a common cause of spondylosis, which can lead to pain and stiffness in the neck and lower back.

Arthritis occurs when joint cartilage degenerates as a result of wear and tear, aging, injury or misuse.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and most frequently occurs in weight bearing joints. The spine consists of bones (vertebrae) and discs (spongy, cartilaginous pads located between each vertebra) that cushion the spine and allow it to move. Ligaments and muscles are attached to the back of the spine, and help facilitate movement of the joints of the spine.

Spinal osteoarthritis affects the vertebral facet joints that enable the body to bend and twist. As the facet joints deteriorate, cartilage may become inflamed and eventually start to break away from the joint surfaces. Vertebrae begin to rub together, and the surrounding nerves and tissues can become inflamed, making movement painful. Osteoarthritis also may trigger the formation of osteophytes (bone spurs), that in the spine can cause the disc space to narrow and the affected disc to collapse.

Osteoarthritis can cause stiffness and pain in the neck or in the lower back. Cervical arthritis (also called cervical spondylosis) affects the upper spine and neck. Lumbar or lumbosacral arthritis affects the lower back and pelvic area.

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that causes the sacroiliac joints and the joints of the lumbar spine to become inflamed. It also frequently affects the hips and other peripheral joints. AS usually develops between the teen years and age 40. Over time, chronic spinal inflammation can result in the bonding, or fusion, of vertebrae, a process referred to as ankylosis, which in turn can affect spinal mobility.


In general, the symptoms of arthritis are inflammation, swelling, pain and stiffness in the joints that are affected. Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the spine also may include:

  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in the neck
  • Low back pain that extends into the buttocks, thighs or hips
  • Pain or tenderness in the shoulders, hips, knees or heels
  • A “crunching” sensation, or sound of bone against bone
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs or arms
  • Limited range of mobility, difficulty bending or walking
  • Spinal deformity


  • Physical exam and medical history.
  • x-ray
  • bone scan
  • myelogram
  • computed tomography (CT) scan
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)


There is no cure for arthritis, but there are a variety of treatment options that can help manage your symptoms so you can continue to do the things that you enjoy.

Non-surgical treatments

  • medication,
  • physical therapy
  • exercise
  • heat/cold therapy
  • rest

Surgical Treatment

If conservative treatment fails to provide lasting relief, or if osteoarthritis is contributing to spinal instability or affecting the spinal nerves, your doctor may recommend spine surgery.

The decision to treat spinal osteoarthritis surgically requires careful consideration between you and your doctor. Discuss your individual condition and the best treatment options thoroughly with your doctor.

Content adapted from Medtronic Catalyst patient education http://catalyst.medtronic.com/catalyst/business-of-medicine/patient-education/

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