What are my arthritis of the spine treatment options?

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Your first thought after being diagnosed with arthritis of the spine, also called spinal arthritis and spinal osteoarthritis, may be wondering how this condition developed and whether or not you need surgery. In fact, this is the thought for many patients in your same position. However, before you start considering surgery for arthritis of the spine treatment, know that most people who have this condition are able to find significant relief from several months of conservative treatment as recommended by an orthopedic doctor.

Before you discuss your treatment options with your doctor, take a moment to review what each treatment entails so you can have an informed opinion about what will work best for you. Be sure to write down any questions you have along the way to ask your doctor during your next appointment.

What is the goal of arthritis of the spine treatment?

Many treatments are available to relieve the symptoms of spinal arthritis effectively; however, there is no cure for any form of arthritis. The goal of arthritis of the spine treatment is to slow the progression of the disease, decrease your discomfort, maximize your joint function and preserve or improve your mobility and range of motion. In prescribing treatment for your spinal arthritis, your physician should first assess the severity of your condition, as well as consider your age and overall health before designing a treatment plan that is right for you.

Conservative arthritis of the spine treatment

When you are diagnosed with spinal osteoarthritis, the next step is to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. There are many different ways to potentially treat spinal arthritis, but it is important to understand that arthritic degeneration cannot be reversed. Osteoarthritis entails a loss of cartilage within the joint, and cartilage cannot be regrown or replaced. However, this is not to say that patients with spinal arthritis don’t have options. Many methods can be highly effective for managing and mitigating the symptoms of arthritis while maintaining or even improving spinal flexibility.

More often than not, your physician will recommend to treat your condition nonsurgically with a variety of conservative methods. It’s important to note that while there are many different techniques that can possibly be considered, what works for one individual will not necessarily work for everyone. Furthermore, the specific treatment plan recommended can vary widely based on a number of factors, including the severity of the arthritis and your overall health. For instance, an otherwise healthy, active person with arthritis will require a different treatment approach than an elderly patient. Additionally, with some treatments, it may take several weeks or months for you to experience sufficient results. This process often entails trial and error and can be frustrating at times, but in most instances a conservative approach is prudent and will prove effective. It’s simply a matter of finding the right combination of treatments that works best for you, and it’s up to you to inform your physician when a specific approach seems to be working or making matters worse.

While there are many different options available, here are some of the most common conservative treatments:

  • Exercise. Low-impact exercise and stretching can be a great way to shed excess weight and increase flexibility, alleviating strain on the spine in the process. Furthermore, the right exercises can strengthen the muscles that support the neck and back, further reducing the burden placed on the spinal joints.
  • Rest. Limited rest may help alleviate pain temporarily, but it is also important to avoid becoming sedentary. Prolonged periods of inactivity can make the symptoms of spinal arthritis all the more severe, potentially exacerbating the issue.
  • Hot and cold therapy. The application of heat to a sore neck or back can help the healing process by promoting circulation to the painful area around the arthritic degeneration; the application of an icepack, on the other hand, can help reduce swelling and numb pain.
  • Medications. The use of over-the-counter or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is often recommended to manage pain and alleviate inflammation. Pain medication, muscle relaxers and anti-depressants may also be recommended.
  • Lifestyle adjustments. Quite often, if a patient is overweight, a spine specialist may recommend a healthy diet to help the patient shed excess pounds. Other lifestyle adjustments like limiting alcohol consumption, improving overall posture and quitting smoking are frequently recommended as well.
  • Complementary and alternative methods. Many patients choose to use complementary or alternative medicine. The use of deep tissue massage, acupuncture and chiropractic therapy are all quite common. It should be noted that these approaches remain somewhat controversial within the medical community, and you should always speak with your physician before scheduling any additional treatment.

Facet joint injections are another popular form of arthritis of the spine treatment. This option entails the injection of a local anesthetic and often steroidal medication directly into a degenerated joint. The purpose of this treatment is twofold. First, injections of this nature can help confirm the diagnosis of arthritis in a facet joint. If you experience complete pain relief after the medication is injected, the exact source of the problem is understood. Second, facet joint injections can reduce inflammation and provide significant pain relief for weeks or months, allowing you to pursue other treatments, such as physical therapy, that may be too painful otherwise.

When to consider arthritis of the spine surgery

If you have endured several months of conservative treatment and have not found lasting pain relief, you may be recommended for spine surgery. Surgery is almost always considered the treatment of last resort when no other approach has proven effective, but it is still a significant decision that should not be taken lightly.

Furthermore, there are many different surgical treatment options to consider, so it is always wise to receive a second and third opinion before consenting to any operation. Some procedures are performed in a traditional hospital setting, whereas other methods — such as the procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute — are minimally invasive in nature, are performed in an outpatient setting. If your physician suggests that you are a candidate for surgery to address spinal arthritis, be sure to learn about the minimally invasive procedures we offer at Laser Spine Institute. Our team specializes in a range of minimally invasive decompression procedures and minimally invasive stabilization procedures, one of which may benefit you.

At Laser Spine Institute, each of our arthritis of the spine treatment options is performed on an outpatient basis and requires a small incision to provide our board-certified surgeons sufficient access to the problem area. Furthermore, our minimally invasive procedures use muscle-sparing techniques which also help reduce the risk of postsurgical complications and allows many patients to begin postsurgical rehabilitation sooner^ than would be possible after a traditional open spine surgery, where a large incision is required.

To learn more about the many treatment options that are currently available to patients who have been diagnosed with arthritis of the spine, or for additional information about the minimally invasive procedures we offer at Laser Spine Institute, contact us today. We offer a no-cost MRI review to help you determine if you may be a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.