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Osteoarthritis often called non-inflammatory or degenerative joint disease, is a condition where the bones’ protective cartilage deteriorates or wears down. It can affect any joint in your body, including your spine. This condition results in swelling and pain. It may also lead to the development of conditions like osteophytes or bone spurs.

Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Osteoarthritis of the spine is the common form of spinal arthritis. It is a condition that damages the cartilage between the joints and discs in your neck and the lower back. As the cartilage breaks down slowly, it may cause inflammation of the joints and pain. As the pain is caused due to physical damage, it is more noticeable when your back is involved in specific movements like bending or twisting.

Usually, spine Osteoarthritis affects the facet joints between your vertebrae, which is called facet joint arthritis or facet joint syndrome. In some cases, degenerative disc disease may also lead to facet joint arthritis. As the discs thinner, then more pressure is shifted onto the facet joints. This creates more friction between the facet joints, and as a result, the cartilage wears off quickly. If this degenerative occurs in your upper spine(neck), it is termed as cervical spondylosis. 

In some cases, osteoarthritis develops bone spurs, which create added pressure on the nerves in your spinal column. This results in weakness and pain in your arms or lower limbs. Irrespective of the location of arthritis weather in the back or neck, it will be painful and becomes chronic. Diagnosing and treating it early can help to manage symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis.

Causes of spine Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is caused due to deterioration of the spinal discs between the vertebrae, and these discs can be damaged by:

  • spinal trauma due to accidents, injury in sports, poor posture, or other work activities
  • aging of your spinal structures, which begins in the 30s also a factor
  • overweight or obesity puts more weight on the spine joints
  • hereditary, i.e., family history of arthritic conditions, especially of the spine
  • an association with other arthritic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, gout
  • diabetes and other infections can also damage spinal discs

The exact reason for primary osteoarthritis of the spine is unknown, but it is usually associated with the aging process. When the cause of osteoarthritis is known (i.e., trauma, obesity, or any other diseases), it is called as secondary osteoarthritis of the spine.

Symptoms of spine Osteoarthritis

Usually, the degeneration of the discs occurs gradually and leads to the narrowing of the vertebral space in your spine. The bones begin to rub against one another, which eventually become inflamed and tend to increase the pace of joint degeneration. The symptoms of this condition include:

  • Back pain 
  • Joint stiffness in the spine
  • loss of flexibility or limited movement in your spine
  • weakness or numbness in your legs or arms if the condition affects your spinal nerves or the spinal cord

Osteoarthritis can affect any part of your spine, which includes the cervical region(neck), thoracic region(mid-back), or lumbar region(lower back). 

Osteoarthritis in the cervical region causes neck pain or may radiate into your shoulders or down to the arm. Pain in the thoracic area due to osteoarthritis is usually caused by forwarding flexion movements and hyperextension.

If this condition affects the lumbar spinal region, you may feel morning stiffness. Symptoms might become worse after certain physical activities or sitting for a period. 

Treatment for osteoarthritis of the spine

Spine osteoarthritis can be treated either surgically or non-surgically. 

  • Medications such as NSAIDs, acetaminophen, and opioid analgesics for symptoms like pain and swelling
  • Physical therapy to improve the strength of back muscles and range of motion in the spine
  • Exercise to improve flexibility
  • Weight loss helps 
  • Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and alcohol consumption
  • following proper diet
  • Heat or cold therapy
  • Bracing
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture 
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – a small electrical device is used to focus electrical pulses on the affected area

Most of the time, degenerative disc problems can be treated without surgery. One out of every three patients might undergo surgery, while others can be treated by conservative treatments. 

If conservative treatment fails to improve the condition, surgical options like lumbar laminectomy, discectomy, or a spinal fusion are performed to relieve your symptoms. This surgical treatment involves removing a small piece of bone or a disc from your spine. Two or more vertebrae are fused together in some cases to provide more stability.

If you are suffering from any kind of back problem, consult Dr. Surya Prakash, one of the best spine doctors in Hyderabad. He has more than two decades of experience in treating various spine problems, including osteoarthritis of the spine and other arthritic conditions.

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