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Spinal Arthritis

Painful Joint Disease in the Neck and Back

Facts and Information About Spinal Arthritis

  • Spinal arthritis is a swelling and tenderness of the joints anywhere along the spine, but mostly in the neck and low back areas.

  • There are several types of arthritis that affect the spine. Some are due to aging and wear and tear. Others result from an overactive immune system, an infection, or are inherited.
  • All forms of arthritis cause a breakdown of cartilage, the hard and slippery tissue that cushions the ends of bones where they form a joint.

What is Spinal Arthritis

In the spine, arthritis usually affects:

  1. The small facet joints found between the backbones, causing soreness and stiffness in the neck and back that increases with inactivity.
    To read more, click here.
  2. The large sacroiliac joints that connect the spine to the pelvis, causing a dull ache in the buttocks, groin, or the back of the thigh.
  3. The sites where ligaments and tendons attach to the backbones, leading to painful bone spurs. Bone spurs can put pressure on a nerve (pinching the nerve) and create shock-like pain or numbness.

Symptoms of Spinal Arthritis

Although the symptoms of spinal arthritis may differ from person to person, they usually include:

  • Neck and back pain (especially in the lower back)
  • Headaches (if there is arthritis in the neck)
  • Stiffness and loss of flexibility in the spine - people may have trouble straightening their back or turning their neck
  • A feeling of “grinding” when moving the spine
  • Pain, swelling, and stiffness in other body areas (arms, legs)
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Shock-like pain and numbness in the arms or legs if a bone spur pinches a nerve

The Most Common Types of Spinal Arthritis

In the spine osteoarthritis is the most common type, followed by rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Osteoarthritis - Arthritis caused by wear-and-tear. Although common in the elderly, it can affect younger people if their joints are under strain (obesity or repetitive sports such as running).
  • Rheumatoid arthritis - This is a disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and other tissues. It is more common in women. In addition to joint pain, people often experience fatigue, fevers, weight loss, and eye problems. To read more, click here.

Less Common Types of Arthritis Involving The Spine

  • Ankylosing spondylitis - An autoimmune type of arthritis that causes backbones to fuse, making the spine stiff. This condition may be inherited and it usually affects men. There are other problems such as painful eye inflammations and heart abnormalities.
  • Joint infections - A skin or a urinary tract infection spreads through the bloodstream to infect joints. May also start after a wound becomes infected or after drug injections.
  • Psoriatic arthritis - Joint pain in people who have psoriasis, a condition that causes the appearance of an itchy, scaly rash. The small joints in the fingertips and the spine are commonly affected.
  • Reactive arthritis - Joint pain and swelling triggered by an infection in another part of the body, such as the intestines, genitals, or the urinary tract.

Diagnosing Spinal Arthritis

Your doctor may use the following measures to find out if you have spinal arthritis:

  • Medical history and physical exam
  • Blood tests can show antibodies (used in Rheumatoid Arthritis) and other markers that signal inflammation
  • X-rays to find the arthritic joint
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computerized tomography), myelography, bone scan, or ultrasound to detect arthritis in the spine and to rule out other causes for the neck/back pain
  • Joint aspiration where joint fluid is removed and tested to find the type of arthritis
  • Numbing injections used to find the painful joint(s)

POSSIBLE TREATMENTS

To find out more about the treatments available for spinal arthritis, click on the options below

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