Arthritis of the spine, also known as degenerative joint disease, primarily affects the facet joints in the neck and back. These small joints link the vertebrae together, allowing the spine to move, bend and twist. Healthy facet joints have a protective cartilage lining that allows adjacent vertebrae to glide smoothly against each other without grinding. Each joint is also lubricated with synovial fluid, which provides additional protection against wear and tear.
A natural consequence of the aging process, spinal osteoarthritis causes the facet joint cartilage to gradually break down and wear away. Additionally, the body produces less synovial fluid as it ages. Both problems can lead to painful bone-on-bone contact between the exposed bone surfaces in the spinal joints. In response, the body may produce bony growths (bone spurs) to strengthen the weakened joints. While bone spurs are not necessarily problematic, they take up valuable space in the spinal canal and can potentially irritate or pressure the spinal cord or a spinal nerve. Spinal nerve compression can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms.
What does spinal arthritis feel like?
Common effects of arthritis of the spine include:
- “First movement pain” in the neck or back (pain that feels worse in the morning and gradually improves during the day)
- Neck or back pain and stiffness that worsen in the evening
- Neck or back pain that disrupts sleep
- Swelling and warmth in one or more spinal facet joints, particularly when the weather changes
- Localized tenderness when an affected area of the spine is touched
- A steady or intermittent ache in a facet joint
- A loss of spinal flexibility, such as inability to bend over and pick up an object from the floor
- A “crunching” bone-on-bone sensation in the neck or back during movement (crepitus)
- Numbness and tingling sensations that travel down one arm or leg, which can occur if a bone spur forms at the edge of a spinal joint and irritates nearby nerves
Is surgery a solution for spinal osteoarthritis?
If you need treatment for arthritis of the spine, you are encouraged to explore all of your options, both conservative and surgical, before making any final decisions. The team at USA Spine Care can provide a free MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive outpatient surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to open neck and back surgery.^ Contact us to learn more.