About Spondylosis

Spondylosis is a term for age-related changes in your spinal bones (vertebrae) cartilage and discs. It can occur in the cervical spine (neck), lumbar spine (low back) or thoracic spine (mid-back). 

At the OHSU Spine Center in Portland, Oregon we manage spondylosis with conservative (non-surgical) back pain treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), physical therapy, and lifestyle changes before considering surgery. Unfortunately, spondylosis tends to get worse over time. It is important to accurately diagnose and treat spondylosis as quickly as possible.

To provide the most effective care, your doctor uses our comprehensive health questionnaire to track your progress during and after treatment. This is especially important because spondylosis tends to get worse over time. Your answers to the questions help your doctor determine if treatment is working effectively or you need further treatment or surgery.

Causes of spondylosis

Spondylosis, or age-related changes in your spinal bones and other tissues, is a common condition that affects most of us  at some point in our lives. 

Over time, the changes of spondylosis can put pressure on spinal nerves where they join the spine (nerve roots). In advanced cases, bones, discs or other tissues can press on the spinal cord.

The major risk factor for spondylosis is aging. By age 60, most people have signs of cervical spondylosis that can be seen on an X-ray. Other risk factors for spondylosis are: 

  • Past neck injury (often several years before)
  • Severe arthritis
  • Past spine surgery

Common symptoms 

Cervical (neck) spondylosis:

  • Neck pain (may spread to the shoulder or down the arm)
  • Neck stiffness that gets worse over time
  • Loss of sensation or abnormal sensations in the shoulders, arms or (rarely) legs
  • Weakness of the arms or (rarely) legs
  • Headaches, especially in the back of your head 

Thoracic (middle back) spondylosis:

  • Moving the spine forward and back often causes pain
  • Bending backward causes pain in the middle back  

Lumbar (low back) spondylosis:

  • Pain and stiff back in the morning 
  • Sitting for a long time causes pain and other symptoms
  • Pain gets worse with repeated movements, such as lifting and bending 

Being over 40 is a risk factor for lumbar spondylosis.

Less common symptoms 

  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control


Preventing neck injury, such as by using the right equipment and techniques when you play sports, may reduce your risk of spondylosis.

Other names for spondylosis:

  • Osteoarthritis of the spine
  • Arthritis of the spine
  • Back arthritis