Spinal arthritis is caused by inflammation in the facet joints that make up the spine or those found on the sacroiliac area. Spinal arthritis can be caused by several events that include:
Autoimmune problems, as in rheumatoid arthritis. In this case, it is the immune system of the individual who is working against his or her healthy tissues.
Wear and tear, as in osteoarthritis. It is the most common cause of arthritis in the spine. It happens when there’s continuous wear down of the articulation. It is usually triggered by stress injuries or a single traumatic event.
Infections, which is uncommon in the spine but also a possibility.
The most common cause of arthritis in the spine is osteoarthritis, which occurs as a result of wear down of the articulation. The following patients are at a higher risk of this type or arthritis:
Older patients, especially if they have overweight or obesity
Young athletes who exercise with an incorrect technique or without protection
Degenerative disc disease or any other form of vertebral disc degeneration
Obesity and overweight regardless of the age
Congenital defects that affect the alignment or biomechanics of the vertebrae
Chronic joint stress and recurring strain of the back or neck
Women, who are more likely than men to get osteoarthritis.
Neck and back pain, in most cases located on the lower back
Stiffness of the spine and loss of flexibility as noted when trying to straighten the back or turn the neck to one side
Tenderness and swelling around the affected area
Weakness and fatigue as a result of a chronic inflammatory condition
Headaches, especially when spinal arthritis involves the neck area
The diagnosis of this condition requires history taking, and the medical records are very important to understand the source of the problem. In the physical exam, patients often have a significant reduction in mobility and flexibility.
Imaging tests and blood tests are also important. They include rheumatoid arthritis antibodies in the blood, X-rays of the spinal column, and sometimes a CT scan or MRI. When infection is suspected, doctors may also require joint aspiration to evaluate the synovial fluid.
Arthritis of the spine should be treated according to the subtype of arthritis and the current state of the patient. We should remember that this degenerative process is not reversible, and treatment should be aimed at reducing the progression of the disease and preventing more damage on the articulation. It is often achieved by a combination of agents such as:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in combination with corticosteroids in injections or pills
Medical treatment to control the autoimmune disease
Physical therapy and exercise to regain strength and flexibility
In some cases, surgery will be required to decompress or stabilize the spinal cord
Besides medical treatment, it is also important to follow important advice that will reduce the strain on the spine:
Losing weight is always recommended for overweight and obese patients
It is important to quit smoking in order to avoid the inflammatory potential of tobacco
Structural spine disorders
Structural disorders of the spinal column are usually misalignment problems such as scoliosis or kyphosis. However, other patients may undergo fractures or grow spinal tumors.