Spinal Arthritis

FAQ’s on Spinal Arthritis

What is spinal arthritis?


Spinal arthritis is a breakdown of the discs in your lower back and neck, and the cartilage in your joints. Sometimes, bone spurs (small bony protrusions on the edge of bones) may develop as your spinal arthritis progresses, putting painful pressure on the nerves extending out from your spinal column.


What are the common symptoms of spinal arthritis?


Spinal arthritis often creates pain or stiffness in the back or neck. It also can produce numbness or weakness in the arms or legs. Usually when back pain occurs, lying down will provide some relief.

For some spinal arthritis patients, pain and discomfort are not an issue, while for others it results in severe disabilities. Emotional and social problems are often a side-effect of spinal arthritis because some patients become depressed by their inability to perform regular day-to-day activities.

What is the cause of spinal arthritis?


Several factors can contribute to the development of spinal arthritis. Repeated injury to the spine certainly increases the likelihood of its occurrence.

Other contributing factors include:

  • Wear and tear of aging, starting around age 30, especially if work-related activities put strain on the spine.
  • Genetics, inheriting a family history of joint or spine defects, osteoarthritis, or leg abnormalities
  • Being overweight, particularly during middle-age; and gender because spinal arthritis occurs more frequently in post-menopausal women than in men.
  • Associated diseases, diabetes or infections can also increase the chance of your developing spinal arthritis at some point in your lifetime.

How is spinal arthritis diagnosed?


No one test can confirm an accurate spinal arthritis diagnosis; however, combining your medical history and a physical examination produces reliable results. The physical examination will evaluate the severity of your pain, your loss of motion, and the presence of any injuries to surrounding tissue.

Certain tests aid in the accurate diagnosis of spinal arthritis. These include: X-rays to evaluate cartilage loss, bone spurs, or damage to your bones. Blood tests help exclude other diseases as possible cause, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides images of affected soft tissue and bones. Computerized tomography (CT scans) reveal the size and shape of your spinal canal, as well as the structures which surrounded it.

Bone scans take advantage of radioactive materials that are injected into the bone to reveal a bone deterioration. Myelogram testing features injection of a contrast dye into the spinal column to locate pressure points on your nerves or spinal cord from tumors, bone spurs, or herniated discs.

How is spinal arthritis treated?


Spinal arthritis treatments are engineered to increase joint mobility and reduce pain, two factors which contribute greatly to a happy and healthy lifestyle. Weight loss, if needed, and subsequently maintaining an appropriate weight often is part of successful treatment.

Exercise is equally beneficial because it strengthens the heart, improves your blood flow, increases your flexibility, improves mood and attitude, and makes it that much easier to perform your daily tasks. Walking, swimming and water aerobics are ideal activities for successful spinal arthritis treatment.

Over-the-counter medications may help reduce your pain. In more severe instances, your doctor may recommend more powerful prescription medications. Non-drug treatments are also beneficial. These may include: acupuncture, massage therapy, the use of cold or hot compresses, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to stimulate the affected joint, and nutritional supplements.

The gold standard for interventional procedures for treating spinal arthritis involves facet blocks, medial branch blocks, epidural injections and possibly radiofrequency ablation.

Rarely does the treatment of spinal arthritis include surgery; however, when its progression results in spinal stenosis, a narrowing of your spinal canal, surgery may be required.  The simple act of walking may become extremely difficult. Significant spinal arthritis may lead to adult degenerative scoliosis. Well over 90% of the time, spinal arthritis achieves a satisfactory baseline with Orange County pain management treatment.


What can I do to manage my spinal arthritis?


If you have spinal arthritis, keep in mind that although there is no known cure, there are a variety of treatment options available. Working with your doctor, there is much that can be done to deal with your discomfort and pain through medication, exercise, physical therapy, and rest.