What is Spondylitis and why does it cause back pain?


This article is written by the osteopath in Islington at the Angel osteopathic Clinic. The article covers:

• What is spondylitis
• How spondylitis affects the intervertebral discs.
• Symptoms of spondylitis.
• Spondylitis and facet joints.

• Spondylitis of the ligaments and muscles.


What is spondylitis?

Spondylosis is another name for osteoarthritis of the spine and is a degenerative process that involves the spine and the surrounding soft tissues and this can then lead to back pain and back ache. Degenerative changes can occur due to age but can also follow trauma, injury and infection. This degenerative process can involve the cervical (neck), the thoracic and lumbar spine and apart from pain and affects all parts of the spine, the intervertebral discs and the facet joint and can affect all parts of the spine, the intervertebral discs and the facet joints. Symptoms of stiffness and decreased flexibility can be present.

How spondylitis affects the intervertebral discs

There are two parts to the intervertebral disc. The gelatinous nucleus pulposus and the elastic annulus fibrosus that contains the nucleus.

Degenerative changes can lead to the annular fibres becoming weaker which can lead to micro tears and a decrease of the elastic properties. Eventually the micro tears can join together to create bigger tears which can obviously lead to back pain. The nucleus is also prone to degenerative changes and these changes result in the gelatinous nucleus becoming less able to retain fluid. This leads to an inability to absorb shock and impact. As the process of spondylosis progresses the disc height becomes reduced and the propensity to herniation increases and a slipped disc can result.

Symptoms of spondylitis

• Back pain that is intermittent.
• Stiffness in the back in the morning that improves with activity.
• Pain around the joints of the spine.
• Headaches and neck and shoulder pain.
• Low back pain, buttock pain and sciatica down the back of the leg.
• Tingling or weakness in the arms or legs.
• Decreased flexibility.
• Difficulty in walking.
• Increased or decreased curves to the spine.

Spondylitis of the facet joints

Each vertebra has two pairs of joints to join them to the vertebrae above and below them. The facet joints are not major weight bearing joints their function is to guide the movement of the spine. Just like any other joint in the body they have cartilage covering the articulating surfaces reducing friction and allowing the joints to glide over one another. Spondylosis of the facet joints can lead to a reduction in the cartilage and the ease of movement of the joints. There can also be the formation of bony spurs or osteophytes around the joints and these can push forward and compromise the spinal nerves as well as reduce the mobility of the joints.

Ligaments and muscles and how spondylitis effects them

These structures also are compromised in spondylitis of the spine. Ligaments that help support the spine can weaken and eventually collapse. The small intervertebrtal muscles of the spine can also thicken and be less effective at feeding back proprioceptive information.

Other articles about back pain

Back pain and sciatica

Back pain and facet joint injury

What is a slipped disc?

What is the crack you hear when you get your back treated by an osteopath

Will your acute episode of back pain become a chronic problem?


If you have back pain and you think it may be due to spondylitis you need to get a diagnosis so make an appointment with the osteopath in Islington. To make an appointment with the Islington osteopath at the Angel Osteopathic Clinic click below.

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