What Is Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is a general term used to describe arthritis of the spine as it undergoes degenerative changes with age. When severe, it may cause pressure on nerve roots with subsequent sensory and/or motor disturbances, such as pain, paresthesia (numbness and “pins-and-needles” sensation), or muscle weakness in the arms or legs.

When the space between two adjacent vertebrae narrows, compression of a nerve root may result in radiculopathy (sensory and motor disturbances, such as severe pain in the neck, shoulder, arm, back, and/or leg, accompanied by muscle weakness). Less commonly, direct pressure on the spinal cord (typically in the cervical spine) may result in myelopathy, characterized by global weakness, gait dysfunction, loss of balance, and loss of bowel and/or bladder control.


Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of spondylosis depend on the affected region of the spine. More commonly, patients will complain of:

  • Back or neck pain
  • Leg or arm pain
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Muscle spasm or weakness
  • Difficulty with fine motor activities (such as counting coins or buttoning shirts) and/or maintaining balance or walking


Dr. Cho will perform a thorough history and physical examination to find the underlying cause of symptoms you are experiencing during your initial visit. Directed musculoskeletal and neurologic exams will help determine where in the spine (for example, cervical vs. lumbar) the problem is originating from. Additional tests like x-rays and MRI may be needed to make the proper diagnosis.

Non-surgical Treatment

Treatment for spondylosis is based on a number of factors including the amount of pain the patient is experiencing, the extent of neurologic involvement (spinal cord vs. nerve root), and duration of symptoms. Many patients respond well to non-surgical treatment. Some of the non-operative treatments include exercise, physical therapy, various modalities (cold/heat treatments, massage therapy, and manipulation), education and attitude adjustment to focus on psychological or emotional causes of pain, as well as the judicious use of medications, such as muscle relaxants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Tylenol, or a short course of steroids. Epidural steroid injections or nerve root blocks may be recommended when there is nerve root compression (pinched nerve).

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is recommended only when non-operative treatments have failed to resolve the symptoms and there is debilitating pain and disability that can be successfully addressed with surgical intervention. Dr. Cho will carefully review your case and suggest the most appropriate procedure that suits your needs. Different surgical options are:

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