Osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of spinal stenosis, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). Further research shows that osteoarthritis affects up to 30 million Americans, making it the most prevalent form of arthritis. In fact, medical experts predict that, by 2030, 20 percent of all Americans will be at risk for developing osteoarthritis, and, as result, they also will be at risk for developing spinal stenosis.

Generally speaking, osteoarthritis is a condition that comes with age. So, if you’re experiencing the pain and stiffness of aging, or if you have received a diagnosis of osteoarthritis and/or spinal stenosis, it’s important to understand how these conditions occur, how they are interrelated, what their symptoms are and what treatments are available.

Medical experts define each condition as follows:

  • Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the weight-bearing joints, including the hips, knees, feet, and the joints of the spine. The word osteoarthritis is derived from “osteo,” which means bone, and “arthros,” which means a joint and its attachments.
  • Spinal stenosis is a narrowing or constriction of the spinal canal, mainly caused by age-related conditions like osteoarthritis, herniated discs, and the like.

Both conditions speak to the fact that the human body is subject to wear and tear. Throughout most of our lives, we are constantly in motion – walking, standing, running, bending and twisting. Joints and bones help make this activity possible. Fortunately, the body has a system of protective cartilage (a fibrous tissue that acts as a cushion) and lubrication (synovial fluid) to help protect joints and bones so that they can endure the strain of everyday life.

Over time, the protective cartilage between joints can wear out, and bone starts to rub against bone – in other words, osteoarthritis occurs. The result of osteoarthritis is pain, inflammation and the development of bony outgrowths known as bone spurs, or osteophytes. Bone spurs can grow on just about any joint, including on the facet joints, which are the joints of the spine. If bone spurs cause a narrowing of the spinal canal and put pressure on nerve roots, it can be a main factor in the symptoms of spinal stenosis.

Not everyone develops osteoarthritis and/or spinal stenosis. But, as you age, you may want to consider some lifestyle changes to ward off the progression of either condition. Getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, using proper body mechanics and assuming a better posture can promote healthier joints.

If you do, however, develop osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis, treatments may vary with the severity and progression of the conditions. They may include:

  • Non-prescription anti-inflammatory medications
  • Prescription pain killers
  • A back brace that’s worn while working
  • Low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming
  • Weight loss
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery

If your symptoms from spinal stenosis have become persistent and are restricting your lifestyle and work patterns, your physician may have recommended traditional open back surgery. Traditional open back surgery involves large incisions, lengthy recovery times and some health risks. At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that are safer and more effective alternatives to traditional open spine surgery. We would be happy to provide you with information about our advanced procedures and help determine if you are a candidate for outpatient surgery at Laser Spine Institute.

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