Relatively little is known about the causes of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in the spine. Epidemiologic studies do show some characteristics of the disease. For example, 80 percent of all patients develop this condition between the ages of 35 and 50. Gender also contributes; women are three times more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Known inherited genetic markers are a predictor of a heightened level of susceptibility to development of RA, as are other co-existing connective tissue autoimmune disorders.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
There are more than 100 types of arthritis, a term which is broadly defined as chronic inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most insidious. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system is attacking healthy tissue, in the case of RA, the synovium or joint linings. Synovial fluid is a lubricant produced by the synovial lining found in all of the body’s joints. When under attack, synovial membranes can become inflamed and cease making synovial fluid. As a result, joints stiffen and become painful. The bones of the affected joints try to heal themselves, causing growth of bone spurs which become enlarged and disfigured.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually is characterized by mild to severe disfigurement, and requires lifelong treatment. Early symptoms of spinal rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Persistent or occasional pain within the vertebral joints, which might also feel warm
- Trouble walking, or an unexplained change in your gait
- Weakness or a loss of coordination
- Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands or legs as bone spurs or boney enlargement impinge upon nerves
- Prolonged stiffness in the spinal joints
- Gradual change in the shape of the spine
Identifying risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis in the spine
Many patients who begin to exhibit arthritic symptoms undergo studies to determine whether rheumatoid factors present as well as other genetic and immunological tests. While there is no known cure, symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis often can be managed through the use of pain medication, physical therapy and specific immunosuppressant medications. Should surgery become necessary due to boney spurring and/or spinal stenosis, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed using advanced, endoscopic techniques can help treat the effects of spinal RA without undergoing open spinal surgery.