Arthritis Of The Spine
What is it?
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis to affect the spine. Arthritis can occur anywhere along the spine, but is found most frequently in the lower back and neck.
The onset of osteoarthritis in the spine is most usually due to wear and tear, and presents as inflammation due to a loss of cartilage in the joints. Some of the symptoms you might experience include pain and stiffness in the spinal joints, swelling, warm and/or tender joints, and difficulty with certain patterns of movement. Medication, therapies, and in some cases surgery, can help to reduce any inflammation and pain.
Inflammation along the spine can affect the sites where ligaments and tendons attach to the bones, which is also often very painful.
Why does it occur?
Spinal arthritis may be related to autoimmune disorders, infections, and other conditions, but most often is due to wear and tear. Cartilage between the joints slowly breaks down, leading to inflammation and pain, typically most noticeable when bending or twisting the back. Previous injuries to the spine can also be a factor in the onset of degenerative arthritis of the spine.
How is it diagnosed?
Your consultant will ask you some questions to establish whether you have any risk factors for arthritis, and talk to you about the severity of your symptoms. They will also carry out a detailed examination of your back. In most cases the diagnosis is confirmed with an x-ray, but occasionally further tests or scans may be required.
How is it treated?
The best course of treatment for spinal arthritis depends on a number of factors, including your age, the level of pain you are experiencing, the type and severity of arthritis, and your own personal health goals. As joint damage caused by arthritis is irreversible, treatment focuses on managing pain and preventing any further damage.
For early or minimally symptomatic osteoarthritis, non-surgical options include lifestyle modification, physiotherapy, potentially in combination with dietary supplements or pain killers. There are also injections, such as steroid, hyaluronic acid or platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which can alleviate many of the symptoms from osteoarthritis and negate or postpone the need for surgery.
If non-surgical measures fail or are deemed inappropriate, surgery may be required to relieve pain and improve function. These may include compressing the spinal cord and freeing up tissues that may be pressing on the nerves, or making the spine more stable by fusing segments together, otherwise known as spinal fusion.
These surgeries can be open procedures or with a minimally invasive approach. All options, and the risks and benefits of each, will be discussed with you during your consultation.
The One Orthopaedics team specialists
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon FRCS (Tr&Orth), Spine
Pain Management Consultant FRCA FFPMRCA