Arthritis of the Spine

Arthritis of the Spine

Also known as osteoarthritis, arthritis of the spine is a spinal condition in which the cartilage that covers the tops of bones wears down. Cartilage becomes thin, breaks down, and may develop bone spurs, which are calcified lesions found on spinal vertebrae.

What is Arthritis of the Spine?

  • Like Degenerative Disc Disease, osteoarthritis occurs among aging patients,
  • usually in the age range of 55 and older. However, it is not uncommon to find osteoarthritis among patients as young as teenagers. It is a naturally occurring disease that may affect the spine's surrounding tissues, including the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
  • The pain experienced among patients is usually from bone spurs, which are produced when the bone rubs against bone. Bone spurs may cause a narrowing of the spinal canal, called spinal stenosis, or the foramen, called foraminal stenosis.
  • The bone spurs may compress a spinal nerve and/or the spinal cord, which causes the pain.
  • Symptoms depend on the section of the spine in which osteoarthritis has occurred and the severity of the patient's condition.

What causes it?

Generally, osteoarthritis is a natural aging process of the cartilage around the spine. Patients as young as teenagers may also experience osteoarthritis from injury, trauma, or genetic cartilage defects. Sometimes the condition may go unnoticed for years, until symptoms related to the condition develop.

Osteoarthritis may occur in males or females, but is found more in younger males over 45 and younger females under 45. There are several risk factors for osteoarthritis, which are: smoking, being obese, having a poor nutrition, and having a job or hobby that puts repeated stress on the back. Generally, osteoarthritis is more common in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine, but may also occur in the cervical (neck area) and thoracic (middle back).

Patients can experience varying levels of pain, which depend on the severity of the patient's condition, and the affected area of the spine. Common symptoms include a stiff neck or back, pain that is either shooting, burning, sharp, throbbing or dull, weakness or numbness in the extremities, sciatica (in lumbar regions), and radicular pain. Pain may be acute (come and go quickly), worsen over time, or be chronic and stay for a long time.

How do you treat it?

Most methods of treatment for osteoarthritis are conservative, and may include rest, relaxation, hot and cold compresses, massages, physical therapy, pain and anti-inflammatory medication, and steroidal injections.

If osteoarthritis is suspected to lead to nerve damage in a patient, then surgery is immediately recommended. For most other patients, surgery is recommended if conservative methods are unsuccessful in relieving pain.

Spinal fusion is a common surgery for osteoarthritis. It involves removing bone spurs to alleviate the pinched nerve and fusing the two affected vertebrae to stop motion. If you feel you may be a candidate for spinal fusion, and would like more information, please send us your MRI scan here. We will review it for free.