Spondylosis is a broad term that simply refers to some type of degeneration in the spine.

Most often, the term spondylosis is used to describe osteoarthritis of the spine, but it is also commonly used to describe any manner of spinal degeneration.

Spondylosis VideoSpondylosis is an umbrella term used to describe pain from degenerative conditions of the spine.
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Spondylosis Is a Descriptive Term

As with many other terms to describe spinal problems, spondylosis is more of a descriptive term than it is a clinical diagnosis. Literally it can be translated to mean that one has both pain and spine degeneration, regardless of what is causing the pain or where the degeneration is occurring.

Watch: Video: What Is a Degenerative Disc and the Degenerative Cascade?

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For example:

  • The patient may have pain from facet joint osteoarthritis, causing pain during times of high activity or after extended inactivity
  • There could be spinal stenosis, an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal, which is creating leg pain when the patient walks
  • The pain could be caused by degenerative disc disease, in which a degenerated disc that becomes dehydrated and loses some of its function. The degenerated disc can cause low back pain or neck pain, and possibly leg pain or arm pain.

These examples are only a few of the many possible contributors to a patient's pain.

See When Back Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

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After arriving at a confirmed clinical diagnosis for the cause of a patient's pain (rather than just the finding that there is spondylosis, which may or may not be causing the pain), physicians then usually use more specific terms for the diagnosis (such as osteoarthritis, lumbar degenerative disc disease or cervical degenerative disc disease, or lumbar spinal stenosis or cervical spinal stenosis) because those terms more effectively describe what is causing the pain.

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Written by David DeWitt, MD