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What is Arthritis of the Spine?
The term arthritis comes from the Greek “arthros,” which means “a joint and its attachments,” and “-itis” a suffix used in pathological terms to denote inflammation. This means arthritis is a term describing conditions causing pain, tenderness, stiffness and swelling in the joints throughout the body. It is estimated that nearly 50 million Americans experience various forms of arthritis. Arthritis is also a contributing factor to many physical disabilities.
In the United States, approximately 90 percent of people 55 years of age and older deal with some form of arthritis, and it is estimated that by the year 2020, more than 60 million people will have some form of arthritis.
What is osteoarthritis?
There are many types of arthritis, but the most common type, osteoarthritis, is also very painful and frequently limiting.
“Osteo-” means “bone,” and this type of arthritis mostly affects the weight-bearing joints, such as hips, knees, hands, feet and the spine. There are several types of joints in the body. The most common is the hinge joint. Another is the sliding joint, which is the type of joint seen in between the individual vertebrae of the spine. The articular surface is a joint’s contact area. Articular surfaces are covered by cartilage and lubricated by thick synovial fluid. Normally, joints move easily with little friction, but natural degeneration of the joint can cause the cartilage to become rough and worn out. This can result in raw joint halves rubbing against one another, causing inflammation, the formation of bone spurs, stiffness and pain. The lubricating synovial fluid of the joint can also become thinned and the joint’s synovial lining can become inflamed.
Approximately 30 million Americans have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, mostly women and typically those more than 45 years old. This condition appears to affect all races equally.
Osteoarthritis and the spine
Due to the amount of pressure they withstand, the spinal joints are particularly prone to developing arthritis. Generally speaking, spinal arthritis occurs in the facet joints, or vertebral joints. These joints connect vertebrae together and are located in rear of the spine. Facet joints facilitate movement in the spine such as bending, twisting and stretching, but these joints often thicken and harden with age, which can lead to osteoarthritis of the spine.
Typically, when a person has been diagnosed with degenerative arthritis of the spine it means that cartilage breakdown has occurred on his or her facet joints. Arthritis of the facet joints can cause slight to severe pain. This pain could potentially radiate along affected nerves to other areas of the body such as the buttocks or upper thighs. As time passes, progressive joint degeneration creates even more frictional pain. The resulting back pain and stiffness decreases back motion and flexibility, particularly when standing, sitting and walking.
Spinal osteoarthritis may also be associated with degenerative disc disease (DDD), a gradual deterioration of the shock-absorbing discs between the vertebrae of the spine, and is confused with DDD in some cases. This is because osteoarthritis and degenerated discs are often found together. However, these are two separate conditions.
Arthritis of the spine and bone spurs
When bone is stressed, it responds by creating more bone in an effort to repair itself. However, the new bone could have different architecture than the originally stressed bone. Over the years, bone spurs — small, irregular bone growths also called osteophytes — can form on the facet joints and around the spinal vertebrae. Bone spurs typically grow in response to bone-on-bone friction in the spine that can often be caused by arthritis.
As arthritis develops and cartilage wears away, the bony ends of facet joints become exposed. The exposed bones rub directly against each other and bone spurs form. Bone spurs also can develop as the spinal discs become thin and collapse with age. Space between the vertebrae narrows, and eventually, adjacent vertebrae can come in contact with one another, causing bone spurs to form along the edges of the vertebrae.
Bone spurs are a natural response to joint instability – essentially, they are the body’s attempt to help stabilize a deteriorating joint. However, they are no substitute for normally functioning joints and can potentially cause problems in the joints.
Bone spurs are a normal part of the aging process and do not necessarily cause pain. However, they can cause the irritation or compression of spinal nerves. This narrowing of nerve passageways in the spinal column is called spinal stenosis.
What to do next
Please review our arthritis symptoms page if you suspect your chronic neck or back pain is the result of spinal arthritis. This page has detailed information provided by Laser Spine Institute’s staff.
Knowing what causes back problems is one of the best ways to avoid them. Educating yourself about the causes of arthritis of the spine can help you limit activities that might result in back pain and help your spine stay healthy and strong for years to come.
Has your physician already diagnosed you with arthritis of the spine? Have you exhausted conservative treatment methods without an improvement in your pain and limited mobility? Are you frustrated that you cannot live a normal, active lifestyle because of the restrictions neck or back pain places on you? If so, visit our page dedicated to arthritis of the spine treatment. There, you can find out how our minimally invasive spine surgery can help you find relief from your neck and back pain.
Arthritis is a term generally referring to joint inflammation and stiffness. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and these conditions affect millions of people. Spinal arthritis refers to damage of the skeletal surfaces within the facet joints of the spine.
The most common types of spinal arthritis are adult onset rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis of the spine
Osteoarthritis of the spine, often referred to simply as spinal arthritis, occurs when the surface cartilage within facet joints breaks down. Facet joints are sliding joints that allow adjacent vertebra to glide along with body flexion or extension. When the cartilage of the facet joints roughens due to age-related loss of water content, each movement of the joint can become stiff and painful. Degenerative arthritis of the spine may present any of the following symptoms:
- Stiffness or swelling of the joints
- Reduced range of motion
- Reduced flexibility
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling
- A grating feeling as bone rubs against bone
What are the symptoms of Arthritis of the Spine ?
Generally, the signs and symptoms of arthritis include inflammation, stiffness and pain in the joints. In the spine, symptoms may also include one or more of the following:
- Back pain that comes and goes
- Spinal stiffness in the morning after getting out of bed or after activity. Often this pain decreases with rest or, for some, after exercise
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in the neck, if nerve impingement is involved
- Lower back pain that runs down into the buttocks, thighs, or pelvic area
- Pain or tenderness in the shoulders, hips, knees or heels
- A crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone
- Weakness or numbness in legs or arms
- Limited range of motion, difficulty bending or walking
- Spinal deformity
- Swelling and warmth in one or more joints, particularly during weather changes (which may be related to barometric pressure hanges and cooling of the air)
- Localized tenderness when the joint or affected area of the spine is pressed
- Steady or intermittent pain in a joint, which is often described as an aching type of pain
- Loss of flexibility of a joint, such as inability to bend and pick something off the floor
- A crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone when the joint is moved, particularly notable in the neck
- An abnormal curve in the spine which may be due to unbalanced muscle spasm
- A sensation of pinching, tingling or numbness in a nerve or the spinal cord, which can occur when bone spurs form at the edge of the joints of the spine and irritate the nerves
MRI of vertebral osteoarthritis at the level of the dorsal and lumbar vertebrae in a 68-year-old man. Compression of the cervical spinal column (in yellow) by displacement of the intervertebral disks (red).
Osteoarthritis is characterized primarily by stiffness and pain in the joints, although not everyone with osteoarthritis actually experiences these symptoms. The stiffness and pain tend to be worse in the morning and again in the evening, with improvement during the day as the person carries on his or her daily activities. Pain that awakens one during the night is often an indicator.
Pain by spinal region
Osteoarthritis pain in the lumbar region (lower back) can stem from nerve irritation from a herniated disc or from bone spurs and can cause weakness, numbness, tingling and/or pain in the legs that often radiates to the feet. Arthritis causing spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal, in the lower back can cause pain in both legs and may lead to difficulty walking.
Osteoarthritis pain in the cervical region (neck), again, tends to be worse in the morning and evening, with improvement during the day. This pain often radiates to the shoulder, between the shoulder blades, and up the neck, causing headaches. With nerve impingement or a herniated disc, there may also be weakness or numbness of one hand, certain fingers or sometimes even in both arms.
Compression of the spinal cord in the neck can even cause problems with walking. In severe cases, it can cause issues with bowel and bladder control.
Your next steps…
The chronic pain associated with arthritis can very seriously affect your quality of life. If left untreated, it can also lead to physiological problems, such as muscle breakdown or weakness, as well as psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression.
At Laser Spine Institute, facet thermal ablation is performed to address the pain caused by arthritis of the spine. Our professional staff has perfected this minimally invasive procedure, allowing patients the chance to live life to its fullest.
Following safe practices around your home and workplace can help you lower the risk of developing serious back problems, such as arthritis of the spine. The best tool you have at your disposal for combating back pain is education. Learn what the causes of arthritis of the spine are, and you will know what activities you should avoid or how you can modify activities to make them safer.
What is the treatment like for Arthritis of the Spine?
Arthritis of the spine is a condition that many people deal with, especially as they get older. Typically, spinal arthritis develops as a result of another condition, most commonly osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis describes the breakdown of cartilage, which protects the ends of your bones. When this happens in the spine, the facet joints — the joints that flank the vertebrae — become exposed, allowing the bones in your spine to grind against each other. This can lead to inflammation in the joints as well as pain, stiffness, difficulty moving, muscle spasms, burning and grating sensations and other uncomfortable symptoms.
How is arthritis of the spine treated?
If you are experiencing symptoms of spinal arthritis, the first step to take is making an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she will be able to provide a diagnosis and create a treatment plan tailored to your specific condition. Though treatment will vary from one person to the next, most doctors will encourage you to begin with conservative methods. Typically, a conservative treatment plan includes a combination of several methods, such as:
- Pain medication
- Physical therapy
- Light stretching and exercise
- Applying heat and ice
- Pain creams and gels
- Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight
Is arthritis of the spine ever treated with surgery?
Many people are able to find adequate relief and regain their quality of life by treating their spinal arthritis conservatively. However, there are cases in which surgery becomes necessary. If you are dealing with chronic arthritis pain and have found nonsurgical treatment to be unsuccessful, turn to Laser Spine Institute. We offer minimally invasive outpatient procedures that can relieve the painful symptoms of arthritis in the spine. Our minimally invasive surgeries are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery, and they require no lengthy recovery, so patients can return to a normal, active lifestyle as quickly as possible.^
We offer several different minimally invasive procedures to address the specific conditions and symptoms caused by arthritis, including Discectomy, Laminotomy and Foraminotomy. For arthritis of the facet joints, we utilize a laser procedure called Facet Thermal Ablation.
Our streamlined patient experience
With the advancements made in modern medicine, Laser Spine Institute is able to offer a streamlined patient experience for individuals with arthritis of the spine. We also take great pride in staffing physicians, surgeons and support staff who truly believe in providing excellent service for their patients. We recommend you take a few moments to check out our renowned staff of spine surgeons and read our patient testimonials so that you can see this for yourself.
You can find more information regarding arthritis of the spine and treatment options on our FAQ page. If you are interested in minimally invasive surgery at Laser Spine Institute, please contact us. We can provide a free MRI review* to help determine if you may be a candidate for our procedures.
After establishing an accurate osteoarthritis of the spine diagnosis, a conservative treatment plan should be designed to meet your specific needs. Physicians commonly prescribe rest and low-impact activities, like walking or swimming, coupled with pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Some patients, however, do not benefit from these conservative treatments. In these cases, spine surgery may be necessary to achieve long-term pain relief.
If you find yourself in this frustrating position where conservative treatments have done little to help your symptoms, the board-certified surgeons+ at Laser Spine Institute may be able to help. Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures to degenerative spine conditions like spinal arthritis. These outpatient procedures can help you find relief from your spinal arthritis pain without the risks and lengthy recovery associated with traditional open back surgery.^
As the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, we have already helped more than 75,000 patients find lasting relief from neck and back pain. Contact us today to learn more and for a no-cost review of your MRI* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.
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Incisions made are 5 millimeters or less in length, allowing for minimal scar tissue and less infection risk