Arthritis of the Spine

If you have pain and stiffness in your neck or lower back or difficulty moving normally, you may have arthritis of the spine.

The word arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints. Inflammation can cause redness, swelling, heat, and pain.

If you have arthritis of the spine, something is causing the inflammation around the joints between the bones of your spine. These bones are called vertebrae.

People of any age can have problems with inflammation, but certain kinds of joint problems are more common in older adults.

Causes

Many things can cause your inflammation. The most common cause of arthritis in the spine is osteoarthritis.

This type of arthritis happens when your joints are injured, or when the protective cushion around your joints breaks down over time.

If you have arthritis in your spine, you might also have symptoms of arthritis in other joints, like those in your feet, knees, hands, hips, or shoulders.

Problems with the immune system can cause arthritis, too. Rheumatoid arthritis happens when your body's immune system damages the soft tissues in your joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is not a common cause of arthritis in the spine, but it can cause inflammation and make it difficult for you to get around. Areas of your spine that move the most, like your neck, are most likely to be affected.

Problems with the immune system can cause other types of arthritis, like psoriatic ["sor-ee-AT-ik"] arthritis. This form of arthritis usually affects other parts of your body, like your heart and lungs.
Sometimes, an infection of a joint between your vertebrae can cause arthritis of the spine.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms you might get with arthritis of the spine include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • A grinding feeling, and
  • Difficulty moving your neck and back normally

You may notice symptoms in just one part of your spine or in several areas. These symptoms may come on slowly and get worse over time. Or your symptoms may start suddenly and be severe. They might be worse at certain times of the day or after certain activities.

Over time, arthritis of the spine may permanently limit the range of motion in your back and neck. You may also have extra symptoms, like fever.

Diagnosis

To diagnose your arthritis, your health care provider will ask you about your medical history, your symptoms, and how long you've had them. You'll also have a physical exam.

Sometimes this is all a health care provider needs to make a diagnosis. But you may need blood tests to help find the cause of your arthritis.

You may also have X-rays or other imaging tests to give your health care provider more information about the joints of your spine.

Treatment

Arthritis can be treated with lifestyle changes, home treatments, and medication. These may include:

  • Learning when to rest
  • Strengthening the muscles that support your back
  • Getting massage or physical therapy
  • Using ice and heat
  • Losing weight if necessary, and
  • Taking medication to reduce pain and inflammation

If your arthritis is due to an infection of the joint, your health care provider might give you antibiotics. If your immune system is causing your arthritis, you may need other medications or injections.

You might need surgery on your spine if your symptoms get worse over time and limit your activities.

Things to Remember

Arthritis means joint inflammation.
You may have symptoms in other joints besides the spine or in other parts of the body.
Treatments may include exercises, medications, or surgery.

What We Have Learned

Only older adults can get arthritis. True or false? The answer is false. People of any age can get arthritis, although it's more common in older adults.

You might need medication to treat the cause of your arthritis. True or false? The answer is true. If your arthritis is caused by an infection or an immune disorder, medication can help treat these problems.

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