There are two primary types of arthritis: osteoarthritis, by far the most common type of arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that develops as a result of wear and tear on the joints that wears down the joint surfaces over time. As the protective surface coating becomes worn down, friction inside the joint increases, causing inflammation and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that develops when the immune system attacks healthy joint tissue, destroying the joint’s surface and causing joint deformity over time. Injuries and some genetic defects can also cause or contribute to arthritis as can lifestyle issues like being overweight or physically inactive. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the joints in the spine.
Arthritis in the spine causes symptoms like chronic and acute pain and aching in the area of the back where the joint damage is occurring. Inflammation in these areas typically results in pressure and impingement on the nerves as they travel through and exit the spine. These impingements can cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the arms, legs, hands, and feet, as well as headaches in some people. Stiffness and loss of flexibility in the spine are also common symptoms of spinal arthritis. All these symptoms may be worse when waking up in the morning or after another period of being sedentary and back pain may be temporarily relieved by lying down.
Treatment of arthritis or the spine begins with a physical evaluation of the back to evaluate pain and other problems, as well as a complete medical history and a review of symptoms. Diagnostic imaging tests like x-rays or MRIs can be used to confirm a diagnosis and to determine the extent of the disease as well as to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Blood tests may also be ordered. Once the diagnosis of arthritis has been confirmed, treatment will focus on relieving symptoms and improving mobility and flexibility. Pain medication, physical therapy, and minimally-invasive surgery are all options, depending on the extent of the damage, the patient’s treatment objectives and other factors.