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What's the difference between arthritis and spondylitis?

Q) Please could you explain the difference between arthritis and spondylitis? I've suffered from pain in the spine for years but have never known the difference. I'm told it's spondylitis.
Marjorie Vickery, Dorking, Surrey (Autumn 2008)

A) ‘Spondylus’ means vertebra, one of the bony parts which make up the spinal column. Spondylitis means inflammation of the vertebra. However, the condition that usually causes inflammation in the spine is called ankylosing spondylitis (because the inflammation can lead to the vertebrae becoming glued together). When the term spondylitis is used on its own it usually refers to osteoarthritis of the spine. Strictly speaking this should be called ‘spondylosis’ as the ‘itis’ part of the word (meaning inflammation) is generally not applicable. Osteoarthritis of the spine usually occurs in the small joints by which the vertebrae move together. The lump of gristle which connects the body of the vertebrae is called the intervertebral disc. It's the latter which becomes worn and crumbly and which may displace to give a ‘slipped’ disc. Complicated, isn’t it?

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