The spine is one of the most complex structures in the human body, an intricate combination of bones, nerves, tissues, joints, muscles and tendons all working together to provide support and motion, as well as protection for the spinal cord. With such a finely tuned system, it’s not surprising it can deteriorate over time. Arthritis of the spine is a degenerative condition that affects the facet joints. These structures act like hinges for the vertebrae, allowing them to move so the spine can flex from neck to hips. As we age, the cartilage that lubricates the joints gradually thins due to their near-constant motion. If enough of the cartilage wears away, then the bones of two adjacent joints may begin to rub together, causing stiffness and inflammation. It can also prompt the formation of bone spurs, which are calcium deposits that build up as a means of protecting the joints from being grounded down due to friction.
Arthritis of the spine (also called osteoarthritis) is an extremely common condition. In fact, if you live long enough, then your chances of developing some degree of spinal arthritis is nearly 100 percent. Symptoms can range from mild morning stiffness to constant and acute pain. There are a number of treatment options available for managing discomfort associated with osteoarthritis. Your doctor will usually begin with conservative strategies that may include:
- Over-the-counter and prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) — to reduce swelling in and around the affected joints
- Physical therapy — to improve joint mobility, strengthen neck and back muscles and reduce stiffness and pain
- Low impact exercises, such as yoga and water therapy — to increase strength, flexibility and blood flow throughout the spine
- Hot/cold therapy — to relax muscles, reduce inflammation and diminish pain
- Stretching — to make tendons and ligaments more limber
- Chiropractic manipulation — to decompress facets joints through gentle traction
- Steroidal injections — to reduce swelling and relieve pain
Many patients with arthritis of the spine can successfully manage their symptoms using one or more of these treatments. In some cases, however, surgery may be required to provide long-term pain relief. USA Spine Care is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgeries that are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back procedures.^ If you have been diagnosed with spinal arthritis, then we can provide a free MRI review* to determine if you might be a candidate for one of our outpatient procedures. For more information, contact a member of our team today.