Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes a painful inflammation in the joints of the body. This condition can occur anywhere, including the spinal facet joints that allow bending and movement.
Relatively little is known about the causes of rheumatoid arthritis in the spine, though certain research shows some risk factors for the disease. For example, 80 percent of all patients develop this condition between the ages of 35 and 50. Gender also contributes to the development of RA in the spine; women are three times more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to gender, there are certain genetic traits that can make a person more likely to develop this condition, such as other coexisting connective tissue autoimmune disorders.
Therefore, research shows the following risk factors are associated with the development of rheumatoid arthritis:
- Other autoimmune diseases
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
There are more than 100 types of arthritis, a disease that generally causes inflammation in the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can be one of the most painful. Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks the healthy tissue in the body. In the case of RA, the immune system attacks the synovium or joint linings that protect the joint and allow for movement.
Synovial fluid is a lubricant produced by the lining found in all of the body’s joints. When under attack, synovial membranes may become inflamed and stop making this fluid. As a result, joints stiffen and become painful. The bones of the affected joints try to heal themselves through the growth of bone spurs, but these excess growths of bone can cause the joints to become enlarged and disfigured.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be characterized by mild to severe disfigurement and can also require lifelong treatment. Early symptoms of spinal rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Persistent or occasional pain within the facet joints, which may also feel warm
- Trouble walking, or an unexplained change in gait
- Weakness or a loss of coordination
- Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands or legs as bone spurs press against nerves
- Prolonged stiffness in the spinal joints
- Gradual change in the shape of the spine
Identifying risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis in the spine
Many patients who begin to experience these symptoms undergo a series of physical and imaging tests with their doctors to accurately diagnose RA.
While there is no known cure, symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis often can be managed through the use of pain medication, physical therapy and specific immunosuppressant medications.
Should surgery become necessary due to the development of a related degenerative spine condition such as a bone spur or spinal stenosis, contact USA Spine Care to learn about our minimally invasive spine surgery. We offer patients suffering from chronic neck or back pain a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^
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