Spondylosis is a common finding on spinal MRI where the patient has neck or back pain. It is commonly used to describe osteoarthritis of the spine, but it’s an umbrella term that describes the degeneration of the joints between the vertibrae (facet joint arthritis), the growth of bone spurs (osteophytes) causing Spinal Stenosis and the degeneration of the vertebral discs (Degenerative Disc Disease).
Spondylosis is more a descriptive term than an actual diagnosis or disease. The word literally means spinal disease (“spondy” – spine, “osis” – disease state) but it is not specific as to the reason for the degeneration and pain.
For example, a patient with a finding of spondylosis my have pain due to facet joint arthritis, spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease, or a combination of any or all of these conditions.
Spondylosis can occur in the lumbar spine, the thoracic spine or the cervical spine, but lumbar and cervical spondylosis are the most common. Multilevel Spondylosis means that these changes affect multiple levels of vertebrae in the spine.
If facet joint arthritis is present, there could be constant, aching pain from that joint. If there is nerve impingement due to stenosis, or a herniatiated disc, there may be radiculopathy (a condition where there nerves cannot function correctly, which can result in pain, weakness, numbnesss, pins and needles and difficulty with muscle control).
Sometimes there is direct pressure on the spinal cord, most commonly in the cervical spine which can result in myelopathy (disease of the spinal cord) symptoms of which are muscle weakness, loss of balance, an odd gait, and potential loss of bowel or bladder control. The patient can also have pins and needles in the hands and legs because of nerve compression and lack of blood flow.
If not treated promptly there is the risk of permanent nerve damage.
Treatment will depend on the specific pathology causing the pain. See Treatment for Spinal Stenosis, Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease and Treatment for Facet Joint Arthritis. Where there are multiple issues, it is very difficult to determine where the pain is coming from, the disks, the facet joints or nerve impingement.