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A Guide to Spinal Arthritis

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Before understanding what spinal arthritis is, let’s understand the meaning of arthritis first. The term arthritis has been derived from two Greek words – ‘arthros’ and ‘itis’. The former means joint, and the latter means inflammation.

What is spinal arthritis?

Spinal arthritis is simply the inflammation of the facet joints of the spine. It usually happens due to wear and tear of the spinal bones. Hence, it often affects your back and neck.

What are the types of spinal arthritis?

There are many types of spinal arthritis, such as:

  • Osteoarthritis: It is a very common type of spinal arthritis. In this degenerative joint disease, the cartilage that cushions your joint’s ends gradually wears down.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: It is an autoimmune condition (your immune system harms itself) and causes harm to your joints’ linings. Though it often affects other joints, it can, at times, attack your spine.
  • Spondyloarthritis: It is an assortment of inflammatory diseases, such as ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, enteropathic arthritis, etc., that affect not only your spinal joints but also your spinal bones’ ligaments and tendons.

What are the symptoms of spinal arthritis?

Spinal arthritis symptoms can differ from one individual to another. Generally, they consist of the following:

  • Back pain (severe in the lower back)
  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness in the spine
  • Swelling up of the affected vertebrae
  • Pain or stiffness, or swelling in areas surrounding the spine
  • Numbness in arms or legs
  • Tenderness in the joints
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue that lasts all-day
  • Grating sensation while moving the spine

What causes spinal arthritis?

Joint motion is made possible by sturdy, slick cartilage tissue. However, due to wear and tear, the cartilage wears down, leading to bone rubbing against bone.

This further affects joint motion and results in the deterioration of the connective tissues that keep the spinal joints together and connect muscles to bones.

Eventually, as a result, the spinal joint lining becomes inflamed and causes spinal arthritis. Other than this, autoimmune triggers and heredity can also cause spinal arthritis.

The following risk factors can also elevate your probability of suffering from spinal arthritis:

  • Old age
  • Obesity
  • Bone deformities
  • Family history of spinal arthritis
  • Joint injuries
  • Diabetes and gout
  • Working in professions which put repeated stress on spinal joints

How is spinal arthritis diagnosed?

To diagnose spinal arthritis, your doctor will examine the details of your medical history.

Further, they will ask about the symptoms you are experiencing and perform a physical exam. The latter is done to check for soreness, stiffness, and swelling in your back.

Other than this, they might perform tests like:

  • Blood test: This test is done to look for genetic markers and rule out other probable causes of joint pain.
  • Joint fluid analysis: In this test, the doctor removes fluid from an affected joint with a needle, examines it to look for inflammation and determines whether the pain is due to spinal arthritis.
  • X-ray: Since X-rays don’t show cartilage damage, they are done to detect cartilage loss caused by the shrinking of the spinal joint’s space between your bones.
  • MRI scan: An MRI scan is done to detect disc injury and constriction of those spaces where spinal nerves exit.

What are the treatments for spinal arthritis? 

Though there is no definite spinal arthritis cure, some treatments do exist and help manage this kind of arthritis.

For mild to moderate level cases, spinal arthritis treatment includes:

  • Medications: Medicines like pain relievers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help deal with pain and inflammation in the joints.
  • Braces or splints: Wearing braces helps immobilize the affected spinal joints, prevents them from suffering further damage, and gradually strengthens the spinal muscles.
  • Massage: Massaging the spinal joints assists in relaxing them, improving blood circulation, and relieving them from hurting.
  • Hot and cold pain relievers: Taking a warm bath and placing a heating pad on the inflamed spinal joints will help ease inflammation. In addition, putting an ice pack on swollen spinal joints and vertebrae can help bring down the swelling.
  • Acupuncture: In acupuncture, thin needles are placed at specific points in your skin. This helps relieve pain and improve your spinal function.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This involves using a TENS machine to send electrical pulses to the inflamed areas of your spine. It is done to obstruct the pain signals from reaching your brain. After undergoing TENS, you won’t feel the pain originating from your inflamed spinal joints.
  • Physical therapy: Also known as physiotherapy, it involves performing a combination of exercises that not only provide relief from severe pain but also improve the flexibility of your spine.

For severe-level cases of spinal arthritis, the only treatment options are the following:

  • Getting injected with cortisone and lubricant injections regularly.
  • Having your spinal bones and joints realigned surgically.
  • Having your affected spinal joints replaced surgically with working ones.

How to prevent spinal arthritis?

With just a few changes in your life, you can prevent yourself, to a great extent, from suffering from spinal arthritis. These changes include:

  • Leading an active lifestyle
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet
  • Exercising to maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintaining a good posture
  • Taking good care of your joints
  • Trying to avoid spinal injuries

Conclusion

Spinal arthritis is a condition wherein spinal joints become inflamed, usually because of wear and tear as you advance in age.

This condition can be very painful and involve swelling up of spinal joints, stiffness of the spine, fatigue, etc. It, thus, makes reaching out to a doctor or rheumatologist extremely necessary.

Our team at the Department of Rheumatology at the CK Birla Hospital understands how excruciating spinal arthritis can feel. Which is why we use the latest innovations in treatment and ensure customised treatment plans that are ideal for your treatment.

So, if you ever experience the symptoms of spinal arthritis, reach out to us at the CK Birla Hospital or book an appointment with Dr Debashish Chanda for a timely diagnosis and treatment.

FAQs

Q. Is spinal arthritis common?

Ans. Spinal arthritis is pretty common. For example, according to research conducted by the National Library of Medicine, arthritis of the spine affects about 28% of females and more than 29% of males in the US.

Q. What does spinal arthritis feel like?

Ans. Spinal arthritis manifests through symptoms like severe back pain, overwhelming fatigue, limited motion of the spine, swelling or soreness in spinal joints and muscles, etc.

Q. Is walking good for spinal arthritis?

Ans. Yes. Walking is beneficial for spinal arthritis because it’s a low-impact exercise that aids in restoring the flexibility of your spinal joints and further keeping your spinal bones healthy.

Q. Is spinal arthritis a disability?

Ans. Spinal arthritis can be considered a disability because it limits the flexibility of your spine, and the excruciating pain associated with this condition can restrict you from performing day-to-day tasks.

Q. What kind of doctor treats arthritis of the spine?

Ans. Rheumatologists are doctors who specialise in treating illnesses that involve your joints, muscles, and bones. Thus, rheumatologists are the doctors who treat arthritis of the spine.

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