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Arthritis of the spine

What is arthritis of the spine?

Spinal arthritis, or osteoarthritis of the spine, is a degenerative joint disease that occurs in the spine’s facet joints. In a healthy spine, cartilage lines the joints to allow for smooth motion. In individuals with arthritis of the spine, this cartilage has worn down, allowing the bones in the facet joints to rub against each other without any protection. This condition most commonly occurs in those older than the age of 50, and is more likely to occur in women than in men.

Diagnosing spinal arthritis

The first step to reaching a spinal arthritis diagnosis is to consult with a physician. To begin, he or she may ask you to describe your symptoms, as well as your medical history. Your physician will then conduct a physical examination, as well as a series of tests to examine your range of motion and flexibility. Once spinal arthritis is suspected, blood work, an MRI, CT scan or X-ray may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

Arthritis of the spine causes

The most common cause of arthritis of the spine is the natural aging process. The spine endures a great deal of stress on a daily basis as it supports the body. Over time, this stress causes the spine’s components — including the facet joints — to wear down. Spinal arthritis can also be caused by an autoimmune disorder called rheumatoid arthritis, which can affect the lining of the facet joints as well as joints in other areas of the body.

Symptoms of spinal arthritis

There are several factors that affect the spinal arthritis symptoms a patient experiences, including the overall health of the patient as well as the region of the spine that is affected. That being said, the most commonly reported symptoms of arthritis of the spine include neck and back pain, stiffness and inflammation in the facet joints, limited range of motion and difficulty bending. For most, these symptoms worsen after extended periods of rest.

Additionally, the friction caused by the contact of the bones in the facet joints may cause the body to produce bone spurs, which are smooth, bony growths that develop on top of normal bone. If a bone spur compresses a nerve root or the spinal cord, it may cause radiating pain, numbness or tingling and muscle weakness.

Spinal arthritis treatments

Nonsurgical treatments are almost always the first step to reclaiming your life from spinal arthritis pain. Based on your level of pain and several other factors, your physician will likely recommend a regimen of conservative treatment that may include:

  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Heat therapy
  • Massage therapy

Additionally, some patients have found success in the use of alternative treatment, such as chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture, though these methods are not widely recognized by physicians. However, it is important to consult with your physician before you try any additional treatment on your own to ensure that it will not worsen your condition or have negative effects to your health.

Surgery for arthritis of the spine

In the event that a patient’s nonsurgical treatment has failed to manage the pain and symptoms after several weeks or months, surgery may be recommended. Traditional open back surgery can be effective in treating patients with arthritis of the spine, but these procedures often come with lengthy recovery time and an increased risk of infection.

As an alternative, patients should consider the minimally invasive, outpatient spine surgery performed at Laser Spine Institute’s Tampa, Florida facility. Our procedures offer a reduced risk of infection, less surgical blood loss and shorter recovery time^ as compared to traditional open spine surgery. This is because our highly skilled surgeons use a muscle-sparing less than 1-inch incision to access the spine.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today and our team will provide you with a no-cost review* of your MRI to see if you are a candidate for our procedures.