Spondylosis is the medical term used to describe degenerative changes in the spine. These degenerative changes are most commonly age-related and, therefore, their frequency increases with age. By the age of 50, most people will have some evidence of spondylosis on imaging.
Given that spondylosis is effectively wear and tear of the spine, it could be reasonably described as a form of arthritis. However, it should be emphasised that it is in the vast majority of cases not in any way an inherited or genetic condition and, therefore, entirely different from the much rarer forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis.
What symptoms can spondylosis cause?
Spondylosis evident on an X-ray or scan is often not accompanied by symptoms, although overall, symptoms from spondylosis occur at some point in the majority of the population. There are two ways in which spinal spondylosis can become symptomatic: spinal pain and/or the pain due to nerve root entrapment. The symptoms of nerve root entrapment are described in the sections of this website entitled Sciatica/Leg Pain, Brachialgia/Arm Pain and Spinal Stenosis.
Spinal pain is, however, a more common symptom than nerve root symptoms. Cervical spondylosis produces neck pain and lumbar spondylosis produces low back pain. As you might imagine, thoracic spondylosis would produce mid back pain, but is considerably less common than neck or low back pain.
The symptom of cervical spondylosis is most commonly neck pain. This pain can radiate up to the back of the head as well as down to the area of the spine between the shoulder blades. Indeed, the most common cause of spinal pain experienced between the shoulder blades is cervical spondylosis rather than thoracic spondylosis. In addition, cervical spondylosis can manifest itself with neck pain radiating out to one or both shoulders. It can also produce significant neck stiffness and reduced mobility of the neck and head.
Lumbar spondylosis is, if anything, even more common that cervical spondylosis and is characterised by low back pain. This back pain can be very localised or a more generalised band-like pain across the low back. It can be associated with sciatica but is most commonly manifest by back pain without sciatica. The back pain is often positional and, therefore, affected by sitting, standing, walking and lying, but it does vary considerably as which of these activities exacerbates the symptoms in any given individual.