Arthritis in Back - Spinal Arthritis Overview

Like so many other ailments, spinal arthritis can be difficult to treat. Treatments range from simple medication and physical therapy to progressive surgeries – especially for osteoporosis of the spine. This disease is common amongst older individuals, but it's something that people of all ages can experience. If you feel you are suffering from this condition, please seek medical attention right away!

Keep scrolling to learn more about spinal arthritis.

What is Spinal Arthritis?

The inflammation of the facet joints on the spine or sacroiliac joints which connect the pelvis and spine causes exaggerated wear and tear in these joints leading to chronic back pain that is commonly made worse by activity. It is also important to keep in mind that there are other symptoms associated with this painful condition such as shoulder blade pain, local muscle spasm (trunk), numbness in the legs, loss of strength over time, and altered sensation below the sacrum.

Types of Arthritis of the Spine

Caring for arthritis varies in difficulty depending on the type. Degenerative and inflammatory arthritis are two varieties of arthritis that affect the spine. We will review the different signs of each below.

Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis associated with the spine. It most often occurs in the lower back. The degenerative nature of OA and how it negatively affects the human body make it a growing concern among older adults, but younger adults are not immune to the pain and stiffness associated with OA either. Factors such as being active or having been previously injured can lead to back pain stemming from OA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not brought on by degeneration in the spine as previously thought. RA has more to do with inflammation, which leads to a breakdown in the connective tissues that can also bring about some pain and stiffness over time. It is most common in other parts of the body, including areas like the knees and hands; however, we can see that pain and stiffness involving the spine can be brought on by inflammatory problems surrounding certain joints and discs inside one's back.

Spondyloarthritis

There are many forms of Spondyloarthritis, which is a form of rheumatism including Ankylosing Spondylitis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis (due to infection), and Enteropathic Arthritis (due to irritable bowel syndrome). These conditions may be inflammatory but they impact more than just the joints. Surrounding ligaments and tendons can become stiff as well.

Symptoms of Spinal Arthritis

Regardless of which type of arthritis you have, the most common symptoms are low back pain, neck pain, and stiffness. Take a look at these other signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • A grinding sensation within the spine itself with movement
  • Pain and inflammation in other areas of the body (especially with RA) 
  • Headaches
  • Stiffness that is worst in the morning and improves with movement (OA)
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling along with the affected nerve levels
  • Loss of spine flexibility that results in extreme stiffness or an inability to obtain an upright posture
  • Back pain- particularly of the lower back or cervical spine
  • Tenderness to touch

Causes & Risk Factors

Unfortunately, the causes behind most degenerative and autoimmune disorders are not well understood. Therefore it can be hard to grasp the origins of spine disease and what risk factors contributed to arthritis of the spine specifically. However, there are a few general risk factors that are often common with the onset's of spinal arthritis, including:

  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Diabetes
  • Wear and tear
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Autoimmune disease (RA and other diseases)
  • Infection
  • Psoriasis
  • Aging
  • Lyme disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Inflammatory conditions such as,
  • Poor stress management
  • Past injury to the spine
  • Gout

Treating Spinal Arthritis

If you choose to ignore the pain in your joints, it can quickly become a chronic issue. If left untreated, arthritis can lead to additional health-related issues, such as spinal stenosis (pressure on the nerve roots or spinal cord from bone spurs and Osteoarthritis), radiculopathy (nerve damage and irritation), and many more!

To avoid living an ache-inducing life and to receive the care you need for your back pain, a professional should be consulted when dealing with back problems. Over-the-counter options, such as NSAIDs and pain relievers, physical therapy, cold therapy pack, heat therapy with a herbal heating pad, and lifestyle changes should also be considered to treat symptoms of arthritis-like back discomfort.


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