Arthritis of the Spine Types
Arthritis as a general term refers to the inflammation of joints, but there are many types of arthritis that fall under the generic umbrella. When patients experience arthritis of the spine, the specific underlying condition is generally osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is defined as the degeneration of joint cartilage as well as the surrounding bones. It is most commonly seen in individuals who have reached middle age or older, and it can cause pain and stiffness in any of the joints throughout the body — although the most commonly affected areas include the hips, knees and hands. In the spine, this arthritis develops as the cartilage between adjacent vertebrae wears away. Once the friction-reducing cartilage has been diminished or eliminated, the vertebral bones begin to grind against one another when they move. The body may address this issue by growing bone spurs, but the spurs can cause problems of their own, potentially impinging on the spinal cord or surrounding nerve roots.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a less commonly occurring type of spinal arthritis, but it is no less disruptive. This type of arthritis is a chronic and progressive autoimmune disease characterized by inflamed joints that can become deformed and even limit mobility. It is most often seen in the fingers, wrists, ankles and feet, but it can also occur in the facet joints of the spine. In these cases, rheumatoid arthritis causes pain and swelling at the site of the joint, as well as other symptoms it shares with osteoarthritis.
Both of these arthritis types can occur at any level of the spine — cervical, thoracic or lumbar — but it should be noted that the most common site for spinal arthritis is the lumbar or lower spine. It seems that the weight it has to bear, as well as the force of repetitive turning, bending and lifting take their toll on this part of the spine more than the others.