ARTHRITIS OF THE SPINE
Nearly 50 million Americans have experienced arthritis, a term that includes a variety of degenerative diseases causing cartilage breakdown, pain, tenderness, stiffness and swelling in the joints, as well as abnormalities in various soft tissues of the body. The word “arthritis” has the Greek root “arthros” which means “a joint and its attachments, and “-itis” is a suffix used to denote inflammation. Spinal osteoarthritis is associated with degenerative disc disease (DDD), and sometimes even confused with DDD because osteoarthritis and degenerated discs are found together. They are two separate conditions that are both connected to degeneration of the spine: one involving disintegration of intervertebral discs and the other involving disintegration of joints and bones. This breakdown of the cartilage of the joints and discs in the neck and lower back is spinal osteoarthritis. The joints that facilitate movement in the spine thicken and harden with age. Bending, twisting or stretching movements become difficult.
While spinal arthritis is a typical development in later life, five factors can increase a patient’s risk of developing the condition.
- Age: Osteoarthritis usually appears around age 45.
- Gender: Women are twice as prone to osteoarthritis.
- Heredity: It is possible to inherit joint deformity and defective cartilage.
- Injury: Osteoarthritis can result from injuries sustained from accidents and sports or work related injuries.
- Obesity: Excessive weight gain adds stress to joints.
Osteoarthritis happens as people get older, although younger people occasionally get it when one or more of their joints undergoes injury or trauma, or from genetic abnormalities involving cartilage. Osteoarthritis occurs more often in overweight people and people whose hobbies or jobs put repetitive stress on individual joints. The most typical cause of spinal arthritis is the natural degeneration process of the spine with age. Our spine supports the majority of our body’s weight and over time, as the body increases in mass and repeats the same movements the vertebrae and joints in the spine wear down. The vertebrae compress and impact each other, creating tension and abrasion during movement, and gradually deteriorating the bone and joint.
Spinal arthritis can be triggered by rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that manufactures misdirected immune responses and leads to whole-body fatigue and fevers. Rheumatoid arthritis affects connective tissues that cover the inside of the joint and cartilage, causing white blood cells to turn against this connective membrane. This disintegration leads to inflammation and destruction of the joint surfaces. The exact cause of RA is unknown. Genetic markers and viral or bacterial infections are both suspected to trigger its onset.
The chronic pain caused by arthritis can very seriously affect your quality of life. If this pain is left untreated, it can lead to muscle breakdown or weakness and anxiety and depression.
Spinal arthritis can cause slight to severe pain. The resulting back pain and stiffness decreases back motion and flexibility, particularly when standing, sitting and walking.
Typical symptoms are pain, tenderness, stiffness, and swelling in the joints of the neck or back. This pain can sometimes radiate to other areas of the body, and it is worse in the morning and evening, with improvement as daily activities are carried out. Being awoken in the night by your pain is a sign.
- Pain in your lower back can come from a nerve irritation caused by a herniated disc, or bone spurs. These conditions can cause weakness or numbness of one hand, certain fingers or both arms.
- Pain in the cervical region (neck) radiates to the shoulder, between the shoulder blades, and up the neck, causing headaches. Compression of the spinal column in the neck can lead to problems with walking. In severe cases, it can cause issues with bowel and bladder control.
To diagnose arthritis, the doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical exam to screen you for pain, tenderness, and loss of motion in the neck or lower back.
- Although they aren’t able to show early damage, X-rays look for bone damage, bone spurs, and loss of cartilage or disc.
- Blood tests exclude other diseases.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) shows possible damage to discs.
In most cases the treatment of spinal osteoarthritis is directed toward relieving the pain symptoms and increasing the person’s ability to function. Having a healthy lifestyle is the goal.
Initial treatment may include losing excess weight and regular exercise. A combination of strengthening exercises to make muscles stronger, aerobic exercises to make the heart and circulatory system stronger, and range of motion exercises to increase the body’s flexibility are all needed to combat the decreased mobility caused by pain and inflammation.
Other conservative treatments, like over the counter medications, massage, acupuncture, hot/cold compresses, nutritional supplements, topical ointments, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
No medication can reverse the process of arthritis; it can only help you deal with the symptoms. Doctors prescribe anti-pain and anti-inflammatory painkillers, mild narcotics, and epidural steroid injections to help with symptoms.
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