Spondylosis, Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis are all spinal conditions that have very similar names but are vastly different spinal problems. To help differentiate between them, they can be briefly described as follows:
Spondylosis = an umbrella term for degenerative diseases of the spine, such as facet joint and disc degeneration that occur due to aging.
Spondylolisthesis = when a vertebra slips forward, out of its regular anatomical place.
Spondylolysis = also known as a stress fracture, pars defect, or fracture of the pars interarticularis, is a condition where a portion of the spine joining the facets and the spinal column, called the pars interarticularis, becomes fractured.
This article focuses particularly on what differentiates Spondylosis from Spondylolisthesis in terms of causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Spondylosis is a term that refers to degenerative diseases and conditions that affect the bones, joints and discs of the spine, and includes conditions such as:
Causes and Risk Factors
- Aging is the primary cause, due to the changes that occur to the spine as we advance in age.
- Injury to the spine.
- Having a genetic predisposition. In other words, if someone you’re directly related to has suffered or is suffering from this condition, you have a higher chance of developing it yourself.
- Repetitive bending and twisting motions that place stress on a particular region of the spine. Over a long period of time, overusing the same part of the back may cause it to wear down faster that other sections.
- Back and neck pain that typically results due to nerve pinching.
- Stiffness along the back.
- On the other hand, other people might experience muscle spasms and twitching.
- Difficulty walking or keeping one’s balance.
- In rare cases, the spinal cord can also be affected, if the vertebra slips towards its direction and places pressure on it. This can lead to serious problems and represents a medical emergency that warrants immediate medical attention.
The conditions that are part of Spondylosis are not reversible, but their symptoms can be treated either through surgical or non-surgical ways. Surgical intervention for this condition carries a high risk and as such is not recommended.
On the other hand, nonsurgical treatment options for spondylosis tend to focus on managing the symptoms, and more specifically managing the pain, rather than addressing the source of the pain through:
- Steroid injections that are administered locally to reduce the pain.
- Pain medication to reduce overall inflammation and pain sensations.
- Physical therapy to improve spinal mobility.
- Muscle relaxants to reduce muscle spasms.
Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition where one of the vertebrae slips out of its natural position and most commonly occurs in the lumbar spine (lower back). Lumbar vertebrae tend to be the most affected due to the stress that is placed on the lower back.
Causes and Types
Spondylolisthesis can be categorised according to the factor that causes it. Some of the main types of spondylolistheses include:
- Degenerative spondylolisthesis – caused by wear and tear of the spine as we age.
- Traumatic – where an injury to the spine that can occur either due to repetitive movements or a sudden trauma pushes the vertebra out of its place.
- Congenital – a birth defect that causes the spinal column to form incorrectly as the foetus develops. In this case, the condition would already be present at birth.
Many people do not experience any symptoms, as the vertebra does not necessarily impinge on any nerves. However, some people may experience:
In a similar manner to spondylosis, spondylolisthesis is also managed and treated through both surgical and non-surgical approaches.
The first option may consist of interventions such as a spinal fusion (where two vertebrae are fused together) or a bone graft.
The second category includes options such as taking pain medication, applying hot or cold fomentation to the painful region, physical therapy and lifestyle changes.
Both Spondylosis and Spondylolisthesis can lead to spinal compression, a process that causes the spinal column to be squashed and shortened. Through this process, spinal structures such as discs, vertebrae and spinal nerve roots may be affected. Spinal compression carries a high chance of nerve pinching, and ultimately a higher chance that one may suffer from back or neck pain.
This process can be reversed through a treatment modality called spinal decompression, which reverses the negative effects of compression and restores the spine to its natural length, along with the original spaces in between the vertebrae, releasing any nerves that may have become pinched.
One of the best ways to perform spinal decompression and eliminate the pain caused by Spondylosis and Spondylolisthesis is to use a special orthopaedic device, called the Backrack.