Rheumatoid arthritis in the spine

The exact causes of rheumatoid arthritis in the spine are still not well understood. This type of arthritis is not reversible or curable, although it is treatable. The condition is known to be an autoimmune disease that attacks joint tissue, and affects women much more frequently than men. It occurs often within the cervical spine, the neck region at the top of the spinal column that supports the head.

Symptoms and treatment for rheumatoid arthritis

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the spine include:

  • Persistent or occasional pain within the 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
  • Prolonged stiffness in the spinal joints
  • Gradual change in the shape of the spine

While rheumatoid arthritis has no known cure, its symptoms can often be managed through many of the same nonsurgical techniques prescribed for people with osteoarthritis of the spine or other conditions that lead to spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal. Physical therapy exercises and over-the-counter medication can be recommended by your doctor. Some patients have also reported finding relief with therapeutic massage, chiropractic care and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture. If this type of conservative treatment proves ineffective and pain is seriously affecting your quality of life, surgery could become an option.

Surgical treatment options

Traditionally, treatment of spinal rheumatoid arthritis has been approached with fusion of the affected vertebrae or the installation of rods or screws to hold the spinal structure in place. A large incision is required to access the vertebrae, disturbing the muscles and other soft tissue. This kind of traditional open-back surgery can be risky and requires a long recovery period. In some cases, the stress created by spine surgery may potentially worsen the condition.

Laser Spine Institute does not treat rheumatoid arthritis with our minimally invasive spine surgery, but our caring team can help you learn about the full range of treatment options for this condition. Contact us today for more information.