Help is available for Spinal Arthritis

One of the most common causes of back pain is spinal arthritis. At Frisco Spine, our multidisciplinary team of neurosurgeons and physiatrists specialize in the treatment of spinal disorders, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. If you are experiencing pain and limited mobility because of spinal arthritis, we can help. We strive to take a conservative approach to arthritis management, but also offer state-of-the-art surgical options when they are necessary. To learn more, schedule a consultation with our knowledgeable and caring staff today.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the back. Also called degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis results from the breakdown of cartilage between the facet joints that align with one another in the back of the spine. When this breakdown happens, the facet joints, also known as vertebral joints, become inflamed and painful.

As the cartilage progressively degenerates, increased friction causes increased pain. Because normal functions like standing, sitting, and walking become uncomfortable, spinal arthritis sufferers decrease motion in their backs, which in turn decreases flexibility. These functions become progressively more difficult to maintain. In addition, bone spurs often start to form on the facet joints and around the vertebrae. Bone spurs are an attempt by the body to restore stability to the joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in the small joints of the hands and feet, but it can occur in any joint in the body, including in the spine. When it affects the spine, it is far more likely to manifest in the neck (cervical spine) than the lower back. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are similar to those of osteoarthritis: pain, tenderness of the joints, decreased flexibility (stiffness) and inhibited mobility.

Risk Factors and Complications

Arthritis affects 52.5 million adults in the U.S., which is more than 1 in 5. There are several reasons why someone may be predisposed to arthritis. Usually it results from several combined factors rather than any single factor. Some non-modifiable risk factors for arthritis include:

  • Aging: The risk of developing most types of arthritis increases with age.
  • Heredity: Specific genes are associated with higher risk of certain types of arthritis.
  • Sex: Osteoarthritis is more common in post-menopausal women, but under age 45, it is more common in males. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

Modifiable risk factors for arthritis include:

  • Being Overweight: Excess weight can contribute to the onset and progression of arthritis, particularly of the knee.
  • Joint injuries: Damage to a joint can prompt the development of osteoarthritis in that joint.
  • Joint infections: Microbial agents infecting the joints can be a precursor to arthritis.

Complications from arthritis can be seriously debilitating. In fact, arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the U.S. Severe arthritis in the hands and arms can make it difficult to perform daily tasks. Arthritis that occurs in the weight-bearing joints can prevent you from walking comfortably or sitting up straight. Additional complications of rheumatoid arthritis include carpal tunnel syndrome, heart problems, and lung disease.

Management of Spinal Arthritis

The key to effective management of arthritis is to start early, so if you are experiencing symptoms you should undergo an evaluation by one of our spinal specialists as soon as possible. Your doctor will perform a comprehensive evaluation and design an appropriate treatment plan based on your diagnosis. We prefer to take a conservative approach beginning with non-surgical options, and will focus first on reducing pain and inflammation and maintaining the joint flexibility necessary to continue with your normal daily activities. Treatments will vary depending upon your individual needs, but will involve some combination of education and support, physical therapy, splints or joint assistive aids, and medication.

Surgical interventions for spinal arthritis are mainly limited to fusion surgery to stop the motion of the joint causing pain. However, this surgery is generally not recommended for osteoarthritis because the condition usually affects multiple joints. If motion is limited too much by fusion, stress may result from the immobility of the spine and cause more pain. However, fusion surgery is used in some cases to stabilize an individual joint that has been compromised by degeneration. Surgical stabilization may also be performed to relieve compression in the spinal cord. If surgery is necessary, we use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible to expedite recovery.

The Importance of an Accurate Diagnosis

It is critical that you receive an accurate diagnosis to determine whether your pain stems from arthritis or another spinal disorder. Contact us for an appointment with one of our qualified professionals today.