Spinal arthritis, or osteoarthritis (OA) of the spine, is a degenerative condition that affects many older adults. It is the most common form of arthritis.  When this specific type of osteoarthritis is present, it is typically the result of inflammation of the facet joints located in the spine or sacroiliac joints at the base of the spine.

Although we are going to focus on osteoarthritis of the spine today, it is important to note that other types of arthritis can affect the spine, including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis of the spine
  • Spondyloarthritis

With more than 27 million Americans living with OA, it is clearly a condition that many are familiar with. Osteoarthritis of the spine can range from mild discomfort to severe pain, impacting your overall quality of life. Unfortunately, in many cases, nothing can be done to prevent spinal arthritis. Regular wear and tear and degeneration are common causes, along with a few others, which we will discuss below.

Spinal Arthritis

This diagram shows a healthy spine versus an osteoarthritis spine.

Symptoms of Spinal Arthritis

For most people, spinal arthritis comes with stiffness, low back pain, and tension that causes immobility.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis of the spine:

  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Loss of flexibility of the spine
  • Joint stiffness
  • Swelling of the spine
  • Tenderness along the spine
  • A grating sensation when moving
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Pain or numbness that travels down the arms or legs (an indication of nerve problems)

One of the first indications that you may be suffering from spine arthritis is that these symptoms are worse first thing in the morning. Often, your symptoms will dissipate as the day goes on, only to come back in the evening.

Causes of Spinal Arthritis

Spinal arthritis is typically the result of years of wear and tear that has caused deterioration of the joints and cartilage along the spine. Regrettably, we still do not know exactly why this happens. Even those who have taken good care of themselves are at risk of developing osteoarthritis of the spine.

However, there are several risk factors that may make you more susceptible to spinal arthritis:

  • Spinal trauma or injury (especially at a younger age)
  • History of osteoarthritis in your family
  • Age
  • Working a job that caused repetitive stress on the back
  • Gender (females are more likely to develop OA than men)
  • Obesity
  • Other conditions such as diabetes, Lyme disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gout, psoriasis, or tuberculosis

Treating Osteoarthritis of the Spine

The treatment for osteoarthritis of the spine will depend on a host of factors, including which joints are affected, your age and state of health, and the presence of other conditions.

The most common nonsurgical treatments for spinal arthritis include:

  • Medications to reduce pain and swelling (inflammation)
  • Physical therapy
  • Lifestyle changes
    • Correcting poor posture
    • Quitting smoking
    • Maintaining a healthy weight
    • Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, such as keto
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Spinal injections
  • Gentle exercises
  • Acupuncture

Despite the fact there is no ‘cure’ for spinal arthritis, the above can provide relief from your symptoms. In severe cases, doctors will recommend a laminectomy surgery or spinal fusion to help relieve the pain.  If you have questions about osteoarthritis of the spine and what can be done to ease your discomfort, please contact OSA today to meet with our orthopedic doctor in Vero Beach, Dr. John G. Atwater, or one of our esteemed orthopedic specialists.

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