Spinal Osteoarthritis Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

The word ‘arthritis’ means the inflammation of spinal joints. Spine osteoarthritis (OA) refers to the inflammation of the facet joints of the vertebral column. Osteoarthritis of the vertebral column is a common cause of lumbar back pain nowadays specifically in the people of advancing age.

There are 5 pairs of facet joints in the lower part of your vertebral column present on each side. These facet joints can be injured, swollen or can be subjected to any other insult leading to back pain.

Spinal Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis may develop acutely but most often, it is a chronic process which develops slowly and aggravates with time. There may be many signs and symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis some of which are discussed below:

  • Pain and stiffness in the affected region may be the first symptoms of osteoarthritis, including neck pain and back pain.
  • If the facet joints of your spinal column are swollen, back pain may be aggravated when you exert light pressure to the affected region of back or near to it.
  • Loss of flexibility. When the joints of your vertebral column are swollen and painful, the range of your motion is always affected because the joints play the key role in the movement of your body.
  • Grating sensation. When your joints of the spinal column are inflamed and you use these joints, you may hear crackling or popping sounds and sometimes you may feel a grating sensation when you make use of these joints.
  • Bone spurs. These are the shelf like projections of bone which are felt like hard lumps and bumps. They might form around the affected joint due to degenerative processes.
  • Soft tissue swelling. Soft tissues around the joints, i.e. muscles, ligaments, and spinal nerves may also be involved and inflamed. The signs of inflammation, i.e. redness, pain, swelling, and erythema are obvious through the skin.
  • Weakness or numbness in the extremities. In the case of osteoarthritis, weakness, numbness and tingling sensations in the upper and lower extremities is common. It takes place due to nerve impinging.

Spinal osteoarthritis can affect any of the major regions of the spine, such as the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine. Out of these, people complain of lumbar osteoarthritis most often.

Additionally, arthritis of the spine can fall under any of the types of arthritis that affect the body overall, including inflammatory arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, joint arthritis, degenerative arthritis, spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, or spine region-specific ones such as lumbar osteoarthritis (for the lower back).

Causes of Spinal Osteoarthritis

The underlying cause of osteoarthritis of the spine is a slow degeneration process of the cartilage around the joints in the affected region of the back. Some people are more prone to this degeneration process, especially people who have suffered a physical trauma that damaged the spinal column. Some of the risk factors are described as following:

  • Obesity, which is considered to be the leading cause of spinal arthritis. Extra body weight puts extra pressure to the joints, which are thus strained.
  • Advancing age. The people above the age of forty are at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis in the body including the spine.
  • Female gender. Being a female always puts you prone to some diseases like all kinds of autoimmune diseases and bone diseases including osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. One reason can be said that after menopause, bones become weak and wear and tear changes are enhanced.
  • Occupation involving repetitive physical stress on the spine. If you are working in an environment that puts you through repetitive physical stress, then you are at higher risk of developing osteoarthritis. One example of such an occupation can be given as heavy weight lifting.
  • Family history. It is proven from studies that the osteoarthritis has also some genetic role. If your first-degree relative has osteoarthritis, then you are at increased risk of having this disease because of genetic factors.
  • Congenital joints defect. If someone is born with congenitally weak joints and bones, there is a high risk of developing bones and joints diseases, including osteoarthritis.
  • Cigarette smokingIt is proven from research that nicotine decreases the blood supply to the intervertebral discs, which already have compromised blood supply, and thus your inflammation and pain enhances.

Pain Management

Initial management of symptoms includes lifestyle modification such as getting to or maintaining a healthy weight, giving up smoking, performing regular exercise.

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Other non-invasive options

There are some non-invasive treatments that can be used for osteoarthritis which are following.

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Cold or hot compressors which involve placing hot fomentation or ice onto the involved joint. Ice causes vasoconstriction and thus swelling is reduced. Heat enhances blood flow and thus you feel improvement in your symptoms.
  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation. This involves using a tiny device that emits electrical impulses in moderate range on the affected part.
  • Nutritional supplements.
  • Physical therapy.

Medical Treatment

The first aim of medical treatment is to reduce or even relieve pain. NSAIDs are the mainstay of treatment in this regard.

Topical ointments and creams may also be applied through the skin on the affected region, and absorbed through the skin.

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