Arthritis of the Spine

What Is Arthritis of the Spine?

Osteoarthritis of the spine is a breakdown of the cartilage of the joints and discs in the neck and lower back.

Sometimes, osteoarthritis produces spurs that put pressure on the nerves leaving the spinal column. This can cause weakness and pain in the arms or legs.

What Causes Arthritis of the Spine?

In general, osteoarthritis happens as people get older. Younger people may get it from one of several different causes:

  • injury or trauma to a joint
  • a genetic defect involving cartilage

What Are The Symptoms of Arthritis of the Spine?

Osteoarthritis of the spine may cause stiffness or pain in the neck or back. It may also cause weakness or numbness in the legs or arms if it is severe enough to affect spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself. Usually, the back discomfort is relieved when the person is lying down.

Some people experience little interference with the activities of their lives. Others become more severely disabled.

In addition to the physical effects, a person with osteoarthritis might also experience social and emotional problems. For instance, a person with osteoarthritis that hinders daily activities and job performance might feel depressed or helpless.

What Are The Treatment Options For Arthritis of the Spine?

In most cases, treatment of spinal osteoarthritis is geared toward relieving the symptoms of pain and increasing a person’s ability to function. The goal is to have a healthy lifestyle.Initial treatment may include losing weight if needed and then, for everyone, maintaining a healthy weight. It may also include exercise. Besides helping with weight management, exercise can also help:

  • increase flexibility
  • improve attitude and mood
  • strengthen the heart
  • improve blood flow
  • make it easier to do daily tasks

Some of the exercises associated with osteoarthritis treatment include swimming, walking, and water aerobics. Exercise may be broken down into the following categories:

  • Strengthening exercises. These exercises seek to make muscles that support the joints stronger. They work through resistance with the use of weights or rubber bands.
  • Aerobic exercises. These are exercises that make the heart and circulatory system stronger.
  • Range-of-motion exercises. These exercises increase the body’s flexibility.

Including rest periods in the overall treatment plan is necessary. But bed rest, splints, bracing, or traction for long periods of time is not recommended.

There are non-drug treatments available for osteoarthritis, including:

  • massage
  • acupuncture
  • heat or cold compresses, which refers to placing ice or heated compresses onto the affected joint (check with your doctor about which option, or which combination of heat and cold options, is best for you.)
  • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) using a small device that emits electrical pulses onto the affected area
  • nutritional supplements
Pain medications may also be used to treat osteoarthritis. Over-the-counter products include acetaminophen (Tylenol).Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also available over-the-counter in certain strengths. Examples include aspirin, naproxen sodium (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). NSAIDs may have serious side effects. Those include heart attack, stroke, stomach irritation and bleeding, and less frequently, kidney damage.Topical ointments and creams are also available to treat pain. They are applied to the skin in the area that hurts, but generally, these are not effective. Examples of topical drugs include Ben-Gay and Aspercreme.Your doctor may also recommend prescription drugs to treat symptoms, as there are no medications that reverse the process. These may include prescription painkillers, mild narcotics, or injections of corticosteroids around the spinal column called epidural steroid injections. It is important to understand that these injections do not correct the underlying problem and are sometimes used without clear indication of long-term benefit. Oral steroids are not commonly used.Most cases of spinal osteoarthritis can be treated without surgery, but surgery is sometimes performed. Spinal osteoarthritis is one of the causes of spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal. In cases where bladder and bowel function is impaired, where the nervous system is damaged, or when walking becomes very difficult, surgery will likely be recommended.

Our team is here for you

We offer the best, least invasive and least aggressive options to relieve your pain and symptoms so you can get back to the life you love. Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialists Spine and Scoliosis Care Center has convenient locations in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake.

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