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Arthritis of the spine information

Arthritis of the spine describes inflammation and irritation of the facet joints within the spine, often due to the natural deterioration and weakening of the spine with age.
While arthritis is a common condition for many older adults, the condition itself remains untreatable. However, the symptoms of the condition can be addressed to reduce the pain and discomfort caused by arthritis of the spine.

Causes of arthritis of the spine

Arthritis of the spine is often caused by the natural deterioration of the spine with age. The facet joints in the spine — the components that are often affected by spinal arthritis — begin to wear down as years of compression and movement rub away the protective coating of cartilage on the surface of the joint.

The purpose of the facet joints is to allow the surrounding vertebrae to hinge and pivot with everyday movements. These joints are cushioned with a thick layer of cartilage to prevent the vertebrae from impacting each other. However, as the cartilage wears down with continual movements or weight gain that adds pressure to the spine, the facet joints can become weakened and inflamed. This is spinal arthritis.

Symptoms of arthritis of the spine

When arthritis of the spine impacts the facet joints and causes inflammation, the nearby nerve roots can become pinched. Symptoms of spinal arthritis often mimic other common spine conditions, such as:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Burning sensation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sharp pain with certain movements
  • Stiffness

Because arthritis of the spine gradually develops with age, the symptoms will often appear slowly. If you begin to notice these symptoms and they continue for more than a week or two, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss a diagnosis and available treatment options.

Diagnosing arthritis of the spine

The first step to finding treatment for arthritis of the spine is to receive a proper diagnosis. When you schedule an appointment with your physician, you can expect the following tests to help diagnose your spinal arthritis or another condition causing your symptoms:

  • Series of questions
  • Physical examination
  • Imaging tests

During the question portion of the appointment, your physician will ask you about your pain and symptoms, such as:

  • When did these symptoms begin?
  • Do certain movements make your pain better or worse?
  • Is there a history of degenerative spine conditions and arthritis in your immediate family?
  • What is your current activity level?

These questions will help your doctor narrow down the possible causes of your condition and also determine the best course of treatment for pain relief.

After the doctor asks you questions, he or she will begin a physical examination to locate your pain and symptoms. This exam may involve pressing against areas of the spine to determine the exact location of your pinched nerve and then testing the radial areas of the body, like the arms and legs, to determine if the nerve pain has traveled to the extremities.

In order to accurately diagnose your condition, your doctor will likely order an MRI or CT scan. This imaging test will allow your physician to view your spine and identify what is causing your pain and symptoms. This is the last step before a final diagnosis can be made and you can begin treatment for pain relief.

Conservative treatment for spinal arthritis

For many patients with arthritis of the spine, a series of conservative treatments will help relieve the pain and symptoms of this condition. Unfortunately, the condition itself is not treatable, but there are many effective treatments to relieve the chronic pain that often accompanies spinal arthritis.

Some of the common treatments used to relieve the pain and symptoms of spinal arthritis include:

  • Pain medication
  • Stretches and yoga
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Water aerobics
  • Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and diet
  • Corticosteroid injections

Your doctor may also recommend methods of alternative treatment for pain relief. These treatments are often used as more natural alternatives to conservative treatment, though often they can be combined with conservative methods for increased pain relief. Common alternative treatments include:

  • Herbal medication
  • Massage therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Acupressure

You should always consult a doctor before beginning or changing any treatments for arthritis of the spine. If after several months of nonsurgical treatment you are still suffering from chronic pain, your doctor may recommend spine surgery.

Surgery for arthritis of the spine

If you have been recommended for spine surgery to treat your spinal arthritis, we encourage you to research the minimally invasive procedures at Laser Spine Institute. Unlike the highly invasive nature of traditional open neck or back surgery, our minimally invasive spine surgery uses a smaller incision and muscle-sparing techniques to offer lower risks of complication and a shorter recovery time.^

To help treat the symptoms of spinal arthritis, we offer a minimally invasive facet thermal ablation using a laser.
Performed most often in conjunction with a decompression as the primary procedure to treat arthritis, this procedure is used to relieve painful nerves in the facet joint, utilizing a laser.

Find out if you’re a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery by requesting a no-cost MRI review* from Laser Spine Institute today.