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Spondylitis vs. Spondylosis: Are They One and the Same?

Updated on August 16, 2018

Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Spondylitis and spondylosis are separate conditions with some similarities and some important differences. It is easy to confuse the conditions since they sound similar and share many symptoms.

Spondylitis – which may also be known as spondyloarthritis or axSpA – is an inflammatory condition caused by the immune system attacking the joints and other tissues. Spondylitis develops before age 45, and most people experience their first symptoms in their 20s or 30s. Spondylitis is a fairly rare disease, occurring in only about 1 percent of the population. “Spondyl-” means vertebrae, the bones of the spine. “-Itis” means inflammation.

Spondylosis, or spinal osteoarthritis, is not an inflammatory condition, but spinal arthritis that develops with normal wear and tear as part of the aging process. Spondylosis is very common and becomes more prevalent with age. More than 85 percent of those age 60 and over experience cervical spondylosis, or arthritis in the bones of the neck. “-Osis” means an abnormal state.

Symptoms of Spondylitis and Spondylosis

Both spondylosis and spondylitis are diseases that cause chronic, degenerative back and hip pain and stiffness that can diminish range of motion and cause trouble walking. Spondylitis and spondylosis may share other symptoms, including bowel or bladder problems and neuropathy (numbness and tingling sensation) in the extremities.

However, the inflammation from spondylitis can spread to affect other joints, the eyes, the digestive system, or the skin.

Read more details about spondylitis symptoms.

Causes of Spondylitis vs. Spondylosis

Spondylitis is caused by inflammation related to an overactive immune system, whereas spondylosis is caused by normal wear and tear that may be exacerbated by previous injuries.

Read more details about spondylitis causes and risk factors.

Diagnosis of Spondylitis vs. Spondylosis

Doctors are more likely to suspect spondylosis in older people, whereas chronic lower back pain before age 45 could be caused by spondylitis. Tests for both conditions are likely to involve imaging scans and physical exams for pain and range of motion. Blood tests are often administered to those suspected of having spondylitis.

Read more details about spondylitis diagnosis.

Treatment of Spondylitis vs. Spondylosis

Both spondylitis and spondylosis are treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil (Ibuprofen), Naprosyn (Naproxen), and Indocin (Indomethacin). Likewise, Corticosteroids, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, and muscle relaxants may be prescribed treat pain in either spondylitis or spondylosis.

However, some important spondylitis medications that are focused on modifying the immune system would not help people with spondylosis. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as Methotrexate, Humira (Adalimumab), Inflectra (Infliximab), and Simponi (Golimumab) would not be prescribed for those with spondylosis.

Read more details about spondylitis treatments.

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Kelly leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

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