Spondylitis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Spondylolysis, Spondylolisthesis, Spondyloarthropathy

Each of these terms shares the prefix “spondyl” which is derived from either greek term spondulos or the latin term spondylus- which both mean “vertebra”. Medicine and anatomy is replete with terms with greek and latin origins. It can make things confusing if you are browsing for information about your health.

All of the conditions listed in the heading above are spinal conditions. They all read very similarly and while some have overlapping characteristics, each has key distinguishing features. Perhaps more importantly, from your perspective as a patient, there will probably be only one or two terms that applies to you. The simplest approach for making sense of all these terms is to organise them into two categories.

The first category includes those conditions for which there is an autoimmune cause. By autoimmune cause, I mean that the cause of symptoms is related to the body’s immune system “attacking” the cartilage of the spinal joints. Out of the list above only ankylosing spondylitis is known to have an autoimmune component to it’s cause.

The other category includes those conditions that we attribute to “wear and tear” changes within the joints of the spine. Essentially the terms spondylitis, spondyloarthritis, spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are all conditions which can be attributed to wear and tear within the spine. The reason there exists different terms is that they describe differing stages of wear and tear.

  • Spondylitis is essentially interchangeable with the term osteoarthritis
  • Spondylolysis is the progression of wear and tear to the point of a bony defect in a region of the vertebra known as the pars interarticularis
  • Spondylolisthesis is the progression of such a bony defect to the point where the whole vertebral segment shifts forward relative to the vertebra above.

We should note that such structural defects aren’t necessarily a product of wear and tear. It may be that one is born with a pars interarticularis defect. For more information on each of these conditions, pleae explore the links below.

Ankylosing Spondylitis
Spondyloysis & Spondylolisthesis

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