ARTHRITIS OF THE SPINE

Arthritis of the spine typically affects adults over the age of 50, but can also occur at a much younger age from injury or overuse. While any part of the back can be affected, the lower back is the most common site of arthritis pain, most likely because it bears more of the body’s weight.

Arthritis of the spine develops in the facet joints, located between each vertebra. As we age, the cartilage lining the joint surface can shrink and wear thin, causing bone spurs and enlargement of the joint. This often leads to the inflammation and pain of arthritis. In addition, it can lead to loss of flexibility, irritated nerves, and sciatica.

There are many different types of arthritis, several of which affect the spine. Some of these include:

Osteoarthritis

The most common form of arthritis of the back, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. In the spine, this breakdown occurs in the cartilage of the facet joints, where the vertebrae join. As a result, movement of the bones can cause irritation, further damage and the formation of bony outgrowths called spurs. These spurs can press on nerves, causing pain. New bone formation can also lead to narrowing of the spinal canal, known as spinal stenosis.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory disease that primarily affects the spine, particularly the sacroiliac joints near the pelvis, and the hip joints. Ankylosing is a term meaning stiff or rigid and spondylitis means inflammation of the spine.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thin membrane that lines the joints. Although rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the hips, knees, hands, wrists, feet, elbows, and ankles, it can also affect the facet joints in the spine. This causes pain and, in severe cases, destruction of the joints. This may also allow the upper vertebra to slide forward on top of the lower vertebra, a condition called spondylolisthesis.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is accompanied by the skin disease psoriasis. For about 20 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis, the disease involves the spine. In some cases, bony overgrowth can cause two or more vertebrae to fuse together, causing stiffness.

Infectious Arthritis

Also called septic arthritis, infectious arthritis is caused by an infection within a joint. It can occur in the facet joints of the spine. Infectious arthritis is often caused by bacteria that spread through the bloodstream to the joint. Sometimes it is caused by viruses or fungi.

Arthritic pain is often worse in the morning, but may also occur when the weather changes, after over-exertion, or even after long periods of sitting.

There are many non-surgical methods of treating arthritis of the spine. Some of these include exercise to improve blood flow and increase flexibility, massage, acupuncture, and hot/cold compresses. Pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used to treat the pain.

In severe cases where bladder and bowel function is impaired, or if the nervous system is damaged, surgery will likely be recommended. Adult stem cell therapy may be an alternative treatment for chronic arthritis. This same-day procedure may provide pain relief and improve cartilage quality in the spine.

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If you’ve been having severe back pain caused by arthritis, regenerative medicine may be the path to get you back on your feet.