To better recognize the risk factors for osteoarthritis in the spine, it is important to define the condition. Arthritis may be broadly defined as joint inflammation. There are more than 100 types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis in the spine occurs as the cartilage between the vertebral facet joints breaks down. This may happen at every level of the spine. Currently, there is no known method of cartilage replacement. Cartilage loss may initially be asymptomatic. Eventually symptoms emerge and inevitably worsen over time.
Risk factors for osteoarthritis in the spine
Although the cause of spinal osteoarthritis remains unclear, risk factors are easily identified, based on statistical analysis. These include:
- Old age
- Overused joints (which may occur in certain occupations that require repetitive movement or heavy lifting)
- Injury or trauma
- Gender (women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men)
Symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis
As the condition worsens, symptoms become more likely. Initially, arthritis of the spine might present as a mild ache, or tenderness, where the vertebrae connect and flex (facet joints). Gradually the body’s stability diminishes. This is caused by the loss of joint viscosity and growth of bone spurs known as osteophytes, which impinge upon nerve tissue. More advanced symptoms include:
- Diminished joint flexibility
- Persistent chronic joint pain
- The sensation of bone rubbing or grinding against bone
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, as with cervical spine arthritis with osteophytes
- Weakness or numbness in the legs, as with lumbar spine arthritis with osteophytes
Treatment for osteoarthritis symptoms
Symptoms are usually managed using conservative methods, such as pain medication, physical therapy, massage or other non-operative treatments. If chronic neck or back pain persists despite weeks or months of conservative treatment, surgery may be prescribed. Contact Laser Spine Institute to explore how minimally invasive, endoscopic spine surgery may be employed as an alternative to traditional open back surgery.