Arthritis is a joint pain or joint disease that affects many regions of the body and many different types of people, regardless of age, though it is more common in females and those who are older. Swelling, pain, stiffness, and a decrease in range of motion in the affected areas are some common symptoms. Arthritis can become progressively worse if not properly treated, affecting one’s life drastically, whether or not it is even visible without an X-ray. Arthritis is a general term with many categories, including degenerative, inflammatory, infectious, and metabolic. Arthritis is, in America, the leading cause of disability.1 Spinal arthritis is a joint disease that causes degeneration. Arthritis can affect many body parts, but cartilage, ligaments, and facet joints are the specific locations of arthritis in spine. Age causes the cartilage to wear down, in addition to the dehydration of intervertebral discs, which in turn increases the pressure on facet joints. Age isn’t the only cause of this, either; genetics, repetitive stress, and being a female can increase your risk of developing spine arthritis.2 According to rheumatologist S. Christine Kovacs, MD, “any part of the back can have arthritis, the lower back is the most common area”. The lower back bears the most body weight compared to other areas of the back, causing it be the most susceptible to spine arthritis. Injuring joints in the spine puts even more pressure on the back.3
How to Diagnose Spinal Arthritis
Stiffness and lower back pain are two common symptoms of degenerative arthritis of the spine. The stiffness is at its worst in the morning and evening, and activity throughout the day can relax the spine temporarily. Pain can be felt in the back, buttocks, and leg, with the leg pain sometimes causing the problem to be misdiagnosed as nerve root pain. Swelling and warmth in the joints can be attributed to the air cooling and barometric pressure changes caused by the weather. In addition to tingling, aching, and numbness, the sound of bones rubbing together, particularly in the neck, may be heard. Inactivity, such as sleep or sitting for a prolonged period, can cause the stiffness and pain to worsen. Progression of the arthritis in the spine can cause more joints to be affected, with less common cases leading to certain joints becoming severely deformed.4 An X-ray can confirm the diagnosis of arthritis in the spine, though it won’t be able to show damage to the cartilage early on. Bone damage and spurs, as well as discs that have lost cartilage, are some symptoms of spinal arthritis visible in an X-ray. An MRI can produce similar results, and blood tests can be done to exclude other diseases. The doctor can also do other, less invasive, physical exams to look for pain, tenderness, or loss of motion in the neck or lower back.5
Exercise and, if needed, weight loss, are the first steps towards relief. Strengthening, aerobic, and range-of-motion exercises, which include swimming and walking, are geared towards creating a healthy lifestyle that in turn helps the body relieve symptoms and function normally. Rest is important, though prolonged time spent inactive, splints, and bracing are not recommended if they aren’t necessary.6 Surgery, though not the first option, can treat spinal arthritis. Spinal fusion can stop the movement of the painful joints. This is not always recommended because multi-level fusions are not advisable as arthritis tends to affect multiple levels of vertebrae. Stopping the motion in multiple levels of the spine can in itself cause stress and pain. Total disc replacement surgery is not recommended as the artificial discs still cause motion of the degenerated facet joints. Arthritis that affects the nerves may be relieved by surgically decompressing the nerve roots.7
How Chiropractic Can Help
Invasive treatments should not be the first option. Chiropractic can provide relief from symptoms of arthritis in the spine. “Chiropractors do not perform surgery and cannot prescribe drugs”; their goal is to maintain physical health in ways that the patient can participate in, such as exercise and nutrition. Chiropractic manipulation can help align the spine properly to reduce pain. Massage can reduce tension and spasms in the muscles and improve circulation. It’s important to find a massage therapist who has been trained in the treatment of spine arthritis. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) reduces sensitivity in the spinal nerves using small amounts of electricity, with the patient feeling nothing more than some tingling or vibration. In addition to treatment, a chiropractor will teach their patient techniques for how to manage symptoms of spine arthritis at home.8 Some research shows that certain supplements may treat arthritis pain. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate might prevent the deterioration of cartilage and help with pain. Supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil and flaxseed oil, have anti-inflammatory effects, and ginger, whether in a dried or fresh form, shares these effects.9 Dietary improvements will not only help combat arthritis symptoms, they’ll also improve overall health.
5, 6 http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/spinal-osteoarthritis-degenerative-arthritis-of-the-spine#2
Learn more about chiropractic treatments and arthritis.