If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis of the spine, you may not have to think about surgery — at least not now, and perhaps not ever. In general, the goal of any type of spinal arthritis treatment is to address the pain and other symptoms that occur when the protective cartilage in the spinal facet joints breaks down and wears away. Often a result of age-related degeneration or ongoing wear and tear, progressive cartilage loss in the spine can lead to bone-on-bone contact, creating friction that causes irritation and inflammation. This can result in facet joint stiffness, a loss of spinal flexibility and varying degrees of neck or back pain. Most likely, it was one or more of these symptoms that prompted you to see a physician and led to your diagnosis.
Some people resort to surgery if spinal arthritis pain becomes unbearable or debilitating. However, most spine surgeons encourage their patients to first try conservative treatment — at least for a few weeks or months — before thinking about any type of surgery.
Nonsurgical treatment options
Many people who are diagnosed with arthritis of the spine find that conservative treatments eliminate the need for surgery entirely. While you’ll want to work with your physician to develop an appropriate treatment plan that meets your specific needs, you may be interested in learning about some of the more commonly recommended approaches. These include:
- Two to three days of bed rest
- Activity modification
- Hot and cold compresses
- Over-the-counter pain relievers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and topical analgesics used as needed
- Physician-approved stretching and low-impact exercise
If you are interested, you might also ask your physician about complementary therapies, such as massage and chiropractic manipulation, or alternative options like acupuncture and biofeedback. Additionally, some people find certain nutritional supplements, such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, to be helpful for treating the pain and inflammation associated with spinal arthritis.
For many people, the best approach involves a combination of several conservative treatments. To help you find the optimal treatment plan for you, your physician can guide you through a careful process of trial and error. Keep in mind that you will have an important role in this process, and that you’ll need to communicate clearly and often with your physician to provide feedback on what works for you and what doesn’t.
Surgery for spinal arthritis
If you find that your pain continues to worsen despite several weeks or months of conservative therapy, you might begin to think about surgery. However, this does not necessarily mean that your only option is a highly invasive open neck or back procedure. There may be other avenues to relief.
At USA Spine Care, our surgeons perform minimally invasive outpatient arthritis of the spine surgery that is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^ If you would like to find out if you’re a candidate, call for your initial consultation at our facility.