What is Spinal Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition affecting the joints. This condition, sometimes called degenerative joint disease, can affect joints throughout the body, including the knees, hips, hands, and spine. Spinal osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage in the joints and discs (which rest between the vertebrae) of the neck and lower back breaks down causing chronic spine and back pain.
Because spinal osteoarthritis causes the spine to become unstable, sometimes the body generates growths called osteophytes, or bone spurs, to naturally re-stabilize the spine. Unfortunately, these spurs exert pressure on spinal nerves leading to another painful condition called spinal stenosis.
Causes of Spinal Osteoarthritis
As with many painful conditions affecting the spine, the risk of developing spinal osteoarthritis increases with age. It is more common in people over the age of 50. The older we are, the more wear and tear our spine has been subjected to. Besides aging, other common causes of spinal osteoarthritis include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Being a woman
- Having a family history of arthritis
- Experiencing a significant injury or trauma to the spine
- Developing certain infections or diseases such as gout, diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis
Symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis
Like other back conditions, osteoarthritis is progressive, which means it becomes worse over time if left untreated. While the most obvious symptoms are pain in the lower back, hips, buttocks, and sometimes down the leg, additional symptoms develop over time. These include:
- Pain so intense it disrupts sleep
- Back stiffness that is worst when you wake up in the morning, improves during the day when you’re active, then gradually worsens toward the end of the day
- Swelling in the joints that are especially noticeable during weather changes that cause the barometric pressure to drop
- Feeling tenderness when you press on a spinal joint
- Decreased flexibility (for instance, having difficulty bending over to tie your shoes)
- A bone-on-bone feeling or sound especially in your neck
- Pinching, tingling, or numbness along the spinal cord
- Joint deformity
TREATMENTS FOR SPINAL OSTEOARTHRITIS
Depending on the severity of your arthritis, your doctor may recommend at-home treatments, in-office treatments, or a combination of both. There are certain things you can do on your own to alleviate the symptoms of spinal arthritis. These include,
- Losing weight if you are overweight (extra weight puts extra pressure on the already stressed spinal joints).
- Staying active through strength-building neck and back exercises, stiffness-relieving stretching exercises, and circulation-boosting low-impact aerobic exercises. Consult your doctor or a physical therapist for a safe exercise regimen.
- Sleeping in the positions your doctor recommends for optimal pain relief.
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
- Using heat and cold therapy to relieve pain.
In the most debilitating cases of spinal osteoarthritis, your doctor may recommend surgery. Fortunately, most patients can achieve significant pain relief through non-surgical procedures performed by a spine and back doctor. These include: