The term arthritis comes from the Greek “arthros,” which means a joint and its attachments, and “-itis” which means inflammation. Arthritis is a term that collectively describes a variety of diseases causing pain, tenderness, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, as well as abnormalities in various soft tissues of the body. Nearly 50 million Americans suffer from various forms of arthritis. Arthritis also contributes to the majority of all physical disabilities.
In the United States, approximately 90 percent of people over the age of 55 deal with some form of arthritis, and it is estimated that by the year 2020, over 60 million people will suffer from this often debilitating problem.
Types of arthritis: Osteoarthritis
There There are many types of arthritis, but the most common, most painful, and most frequently disabling type of arthritis is osteoarthritis.
“Osteo-” means “bone,” and this type of arthritis mostly affects the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, as well as joints in the hands, feet, and spine. There are several types of joints in the body. The most common is the hinge joint. Another is the sliding joint. The articular surface of a joint is the contact area of the joint. Articular surfaces are covered by cartilage and lubricated by synovial fluid. Normally, joints move easily with very little friction, but natural degeneration of the joint can cause the cartilage to become rough and worn out. This can result in joint halves rubbing against one another, causing inflammation, the formation of bone spurs, stiffness, and pain. Furthermore, the lubricating synovial fluid of the joint may become thin and the joint’s synovial lining can become inflamed.
Up to 30 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, mostly women and typically those over 45 or 50 years old. This condition appears to affect all races equally.
Osteoarthritis may be associated with degenerative disc disease a gradual deterioration of the shock-absorbing discs between the vertebrae of the spine, and is even confused with it in some cases. This is because osteoarthritis and degenerated discs are often found together. However, these are two separate conditions.
Type of arthritis: Spinal arthritis
Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the joints in the spine. Generally speaking, spinal arthritis occurs in the facet joints (also called vertebral joints). These joints connect vertebrae together and are located in the posterior (rear) portion of the spine. Facet joints facilitate movement in the spine such as bending, twisting, and stretching, but these joints can thicken and harden with age, which can lead to osteoarthritis of the spine. Being diagnosed with arthritis of the spine typically means that there has been a cartilage breakdown on facet joints. Arthritis of the facet joints causes slight to severe pain. This pain can potentially radiate to other areas of the body such as the buttocks or upper thighs. The arthritic facet joints become inflamed. As time passes, progressive joint degeneration creates even more frictional pain. The resulting back pain and stiffness decreases back motion and flexibility, particularly when standing, sitting, and even walking.
The arthritis / bone spur connection
When bone is stressed, it responds by creating more bone in an effort to repair itself. The new bone may have different architecture than the originally stressed bone. Over the years, bone spurs (small, irregular bone growths also called osteophytes) may form on the facet joints and even around the spinal vertebrae. Bone spurs typically grow in response to bone-on-bone friction in the spine. How does this friction occur? As arthritis develops and cartilage wears away, the boney ends of facet joints become exposed. The exposed bones rub directly against one another, and bone spurs form. Bone spurs also may develop as the soft discs located between the vertebrae become thin and collapse with age. Spaces between the vertebrae narrow, and eventually, adjacent vertebrae may rub together, causing bone spurs to form along the edges of the vertebrae.
Bone spurs are a natural response to joint instability – essentially, they are the body’s attempt to help return stability to the joint. Yet, while bone spurs might be intended to improve joint stability, this enlargement of the normal bony structure actually indicates degeneration of the spine.
Bone spurs are a normal part of the aging process and do not necessarily cause pain. However, they may become so large that they cause irritation or compression of nerves passing through spinal structures. This narrowing of nerve passageways in the spinal column is a condition known as spinal stenosis.
What to do next…
Please review our arthritis symptoms page if you suspect your chronic back pain is the result of spinal arthritis. This page has detailed information provided by Laser Spine Institute’s staff of experts.
Knowing what causes back problems is one of the best ways to avoid them. Educating yourself about the causes of arthritis of the spine can help you avoid activities that might result in back pain and ensure your spine stays healthy and strong for years to come.
Has your physician already diagnosed you with arthritis of the spine? Have conservative treatment methods failed to bring you pain relief? Are you frustrated that you cannot live a normal, active lifestyle because of the restrictions back pain places on you? If so, visit our page dedicated to arthritis of the spine treatment. There, you can find out how our minimally invasive procedures can help recover spinal health.
Please visit our arthritis of the spine FAQ page for answers to popular questions. On this page, we have answered many of the most commonly asked questions.