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Arthritis of the spine

What is arthritis of the spine?

There are several types of arthritis of the spine. However, the most common — and the one usually referenced when talking about spinal arthritis — is osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the gradual degeneration of the cartilage in the facet joints — the joints that make it possible for the spine to bend and twist. This is a chronic condition that most people eventually experience at some point in their lives, although the severity of the condition and the symptoms it produces vary greatly from one individual to the next.

What causes arthritis of the spine?

The reason why most people develop some degree of spinal arthritis is that the condition is most commonly caused by the natural aging process. As the body gets older, and the spine accumulates years of wear and tear, the cartilage that lines the joints in the spine gradually diminishes. Cartilage allows the joints to move smoothly, which means a loss of cartilage can lead to bone scraping against bone, and in some cases, the resulting development of bone spurs.

Spinal arthritis symptoms

When the surfaces of the spinal joints grind against each other, it can cause a significant degree of discomfort. It can also cause swelling and stiffness of the joints, which tends to reduce a person’s range of motion. This is often most noticeable after an extended period of inactivity, such as sleeping.

Additionally, if a bone spur develops and compresses a nerve root or the spinal cord, several additional symptoms can develop as a result. Nerve root or spinal cord compression can cause tingling, numbness and muscle weakness, as well as shooting pains along the path of the affected nerve.

Spinal arthritis diagnosis

Diagnosing spinal arthritis often involves several steps. The first is a medical history, during which a physician will ask about the patient’s symptoms, previous medical diagnoses and current attempts at treatment. The second is a physical examination, during which a physician will test the patient’s flexibility and range of motion. The third is diagnostic imagery, which can provide a visual of any changes that are developing in a patient’s spine.

Common treatments for arthritis of the spine

Spinal arthritis treatment typically focuses on addressing a patient’s symptoms. Pain medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) are often the cornerstone of treatment, with physical therapy, spinal injections, hot/cold compresses, weight loss and exercise also recommended on a regular basis.

Most people benefit significantly from these treatments, but spinal arthritis is a progressive condition. Some people do eventually require surgery.

Do I need surgery?

If you’ve already tried several different nonsurgical treatments and aren’t getting the relief you need (or are no longer seeing benefits from treatments that used to work), you may wish to consider surgery. However, there are many different surgical options, some of which are alternatives to traditional open spine operations. At Laser Spine Institute in Cincinnati, we perform minimally invasive, outpatient spine surgery that is often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open spine procedures. Since 2005, we have helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain.

To find out if you are a candidate for spinal arthritis surgery at Laser Spine Institute contact us today for a no-cost MRI review.*