Spondylosis: Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Lower Back Pain


Spondylosis is a general term that refers to the natural degeneration of the spine that occurs with age. It is a common condition that affects the vertebrae (bones of the spine), intervertebral discs (the cushions between the vertebrae), and the ligaments and muscles of the spine.

Spondylosis can cause a range of symptoms, including back pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving. In some cases, it can also cause nerve compression, which can lead to numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms or legs. Treatment may include medications, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery.


Spondylosis is a general term that refers to the degenerative changes that can occur in the spine as a result of aging or wear and tear. These changes can include the following:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is a type of degenerative joint disease that can cause the cartilage in the joints of the spine to wear away. As the cartilage wears away, the bones may rub against each other, causing pain and stiffness.
  • Herniated discs: The discs between the vertebrae in the spine can herniate or rupture, causing a bulge or protrusion that can press on nearby nerves.
  • Bone spurs: As the spine degenerates, bone spurs (osteophytes) can form on the edges of the vertebrae. These spurs can press on nearby nerves or the spinal cord, causing pain and other symptoms.
Osteoarthritis of the Spine


Spondylosis is a general term that refers to the degenerative changes that can occur in the spine as a result of aging or wear and tear. These changes can include osteoarthritis, herniated discs, and bone spurs.

There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing spondylosis. These include:

  1. Aging: As we age, the intervertebral discs in our spine can begin to break down and lose their elasticity. Cartilage in the joints can also wear down and this can lead to the development of osteoarthritis and other degenerative changes in the spine.
  2. Overuse injuries: Repeated strain on the spine, such as from heavy lifting or repetitive motions, can cause wear and tear on the spine over time and contribute to the development of spondylosis.
  3. Poor posture: Poor posture, such as slouching or hunching over a desk or computer, can put excess strain on the spine and lead to degenerative changes.
  4. Obesity: Carrying excess weight can put additional pressure on the spine and increase the risk of spondylosis.

It’s worth noting that not all cases of spondylosis are caused by one specific factor. In many cases, a combination of factors may contribute to the development of spondylosis


Spondylosis is a common age-related condition that can affect the neck (cervical spondylosis) or lower back (lumbar spondylosis). It is estimated that up to 80% of people will experience some degree of degenerative changes in the spine as they age.

The prevalence of spondylosis tends to increase with age. It is more common in people over the age of 50 and is rare in people under the age of 20. However, it is possible for younger people to develop spondylosis due to genetics, occupation, or other factors that can increase the risk of degenerative changes in the spine.


The symptoms of spondylosis can vary depending on the location and severity of the degenerative changes in the spine. Some common symptoms of spondylosis include:

  • Pain: Spondylosis can cause pain in the neck or lower back, which may be worse with activity and relieved by rest.
  • Stiffness: The spine may feel stiff and inflexible, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
  • Numbness or tingling: Herniated discs or bone spurs can press on nearby nerves, causing numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, legs, or feet.
  • Weakness: Spondylosis can cause weakness in the muscles of the arms or legs due to nerve compression.
  • Difficulty walking: In severe cases, spondylosis can cause difficulty walking or balancing due to nerve root impingement.

It’s worth noting that not all people with spondylosis will experience the same symptoms, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all.


The treatment for spondylosis typically depends on the location and severity of the degenerative changes in the spine, as well as the presence and severity of any symptoms. Some common treatment options for spondylosis include:

  • Medications: Over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or muscle relaxants, can be helpful in managing pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help to improve mobility and strengthen the muscles of the back and neck. Exercises may include stretching, strengthening, and low-impact aerobic activity.
  • Chiropractic care: Chiropractic care, which includes spinal manipulation therapy (SMT), involves manual adjustments to the spine to improve alignment and reduce pain.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate healing and manage pain.
  • Lifestyle changes: Making changes to your daily routine, such as improving posture, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding activities that strain the spine, can help to manage the symptoms of spondylosis.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove herniated discs or bone spurs or to stabilize the spine.

It’s important to work with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your individual needs.


Fitzgerald, J A, and P H Newman. “Degenerative spondylolisthesis.” The Journal of bone and joint surgery. British volume vol. 58,2 (1976): 184-92. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.58B2.932080

Middleton, Kimberley, and David E Fish. “Lumbar spondylosis: clinical presentation and treatment approaches.” Current reviews in musculoskeletal medicine vol. 2,2 (2009): 94-104. doi:10.1007/s12178-009-9051-x

About the Author

Dave Harrison, MD

Dr. Harrison is a board certified Emergency Physician with a part time appointment at San Francisco General Medical Center and is an Assistant Clinical Professor-Volunteer at the UCSF School of Medicine. Dr. Harrison attended medical school at Tufts University and completed his Emergency Medicine residency at the University of Southern California. Dr. Harrison manages the editorial process for SpineInfo.com.