Arthritis of the spine is the degeneration of the cartilage that lines the facet joints of the spine. Also called spondylosis, or spinal osteoarthritis, it generally occurs as a natural part of the aging process, more commonly in the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) region than in the thoracic (middle back) region. It can, however, occur at any level of the spine. Symptoms include localized pain, pain that radiates from the location of degeneration to other parts of the body, muscle stiffness, and diminished range of motion. Spondylosis has no known cure, although its symptoms can normally be managed using conservative treatments such as physical therapy and pain medication.
Risk Factors for Arthritis of the Spine
As we age, the intervertebral discs that cushion our spine begin to lose water and elasticity, and our vertebrae begin to lose bone density. For most of us, the cartilage that helps lubricate the movable parts of the spine also begins to lose viscosity. These movable parts, known as facet joints, occur in pairs on either side of the vertebrae. Our stacked vertebrae meet at the intervertebral discs and the facet joints, and when the facet joint cartilage begins to deteriorate, the range of motion we enjoyed at a younger age begins to diminish. Spinal osteoarthritis has no known cure. Predictors for patients who more frequently suffer from spinal osteoarthritis:
- Age 50 or older
- Overused joints because of work or sports
- Traumatic spine injury
- Family history of osteoarthritis
- Chronic illness such as diabetes
- Weakened immune system
Minimally Invasive Treatment for Arthritis of the Spine
If chronic arthritic pain persists despite weeks or months of conservative treatment, surgery might become an option. Traditional back surgery to treat arthritis of the spine requires general anesthesia and involves the removal of one or more facet joints, often with spinal fusion to immobilize the vertebral segment. At Laser Spine Institute, our orthopedic specialists can treat facet osteoarthritis with laser thermal ablation of the tiny nerves invading the arthritic facet joint, a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that uses safe, effective endoscopic technology to deaden its localized nerve ending. Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more, or for a free review of an MRI or CT scan.