Spinal Osteoarthritis (Degenerative Arthritis of the Spine)
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease. It is a condition in which the protective cartilage that cushions the tops of bones degenerates, or wears down. This causes swelling and pain. It may also cause the development of osteophytes, or bone spurs.
What Is Osteoarthritis 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.
Who Gets Osteoarthritis of the Spine?
In general, osteoarthritis happens as people age. Younger people may get it from one of several different causes:
- injury or trauma to a joint
- a genetic defect involving cartilage
- a condition that makes the joint lose its proper formation
For people younger than 45 years old, osteoarthritis is more common among men. After age 45, osteoarthritis is more common among women. Osteoarthritis occurs more often among people who are overweight. It also occurs more frequently in those who have jobs or hobbies that put repetitive stress on certain joints.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis 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. 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.
How Is Osteoarthritis of the Spine Diagnosed?
There is no single test to confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis. The doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam to see if the person has pain, tenderness, loss of motion,or signs of injury to surrounding tissues.
The doctor may order certain tests to aid in the diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the spine. These tests include:
- X-rays to look for bone damage, bone spurs, and loss of cartilage or disc. However, X-rays are not able to show early damage to cartilage.
- Blood tests to exclude other diseases.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show possible damage to discs or narrowing of areas where spinal nerves exit.
How Is Osteoarthritis of the Spine Treated?
In most cases, treatment of spinal osteoarthritis is geared toward relieving the symptoms of pain and increasing the joint’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