Spondylitis Versus Spondylosis
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2022 | Last updated: April 2023
Spondylitis and spondylosis are terms used to describe conditions that affect the spine. Both conditions cause back or neck pain and stiffness. But while they may sound similar, these terms refer to different conditions.1,2
What is spondylitis?
Spondylitis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the spine. The inflammation often leads to stiffness and pain in the spine. It can be caused by several things, including:1,2
- An autoimmune condition
Sometimes, spondylitis can lead to ankylosing spondylitis (AS). AS is a type of inflammatory arthritis that can lead to the joining (fusing) of the vertebrae in the spine. This fusing can give a person a hunched-over posture. AS is a type of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA).1-3
What is spondylosis?
Spondylosis is a type of degenerative arthritis. This means that the spine slowly becomes worse over time. Spondylosis can be caused by:2
- Wear and tear
As people grow older, their bones can change. The bones in the spine are no exception. Some changes are part of the normal wear and tear of the back and neck. Bones get weaker, and little growths called bone spurs (osteophytes) can develop. The discs in your back also can lose moisture and shrink.2
As the bones in your back change, you may start to feel symptoms. The bone spurs that form can pinch nerves and cause pain. At this point, your doctor may tell you that you have spondylosis.2
How are spondylitis and spondylosis treated?
There is no cure for either spondylosis or spondylitis. But some treatments can help lessen the pain and stiffness they cause. Treatment options include:1,4
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Prescription drugs to fight inflammation, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors and other disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- Pain relievers
- Physical therapy
- Healthy diet
- Surgery in severe cases
What is the outlook for people with spondylosis or spondylitis?
The outlook for people with these conditions depends on the severity of their condition. People with mild symptoms may only need pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. If your symptoms are more severe, you may need other treatments.1,4
If you have spondylitis caused by an autoimmune condition like AS, you have a lifelong condition. But there are treatments that can help lessen your symptoms and improve your quality of life.4
While both conditions cause back pain, spondylosis and spondylitis are different. Keep in mind these key points:1-4
- Spondylitis is an inflammation of the spine.
- Spondylosis is a degenerative condition of the spine.
- Spondylitis can be caused by infection, arthritis, or an autoimmune disease.
- Spondylosis is typically caused by wear and tear on the spine over time.
- There is no cure for either spondylosis or spondylitis, but there are treatments that can help.
Both spondylosis and spondylitis are chronic conditions. This means they can both last for many years and may even be lifelong. But with proper treatment, most people with these conditions can manage their symptoms and live relatively normal lives.2,3