What is Spinal Arthritis?

Mary McMahon

Spinal arthritis is a form of arthritis which appears in the spine. Arthritis is an umbrella term for a large family of joint disorders which cause the joints to become inflamed and irritated. Many people over age 40 suffer from arthritis to some degree, and spinal arthritis is an extremely common form of arthritis for older adults. Several treatments can be used to manage spinal arthritis, and although the condition cannot be cured, it does not have to be miserable for the patient.

An illustration of a healthy spine and one with spinal osteoarthritis.
An illustration of a healthy spine and one with spinal osteoarthritis.

In arthritis patients, the joints involved become inflamed and irritated, which makes them tender to the touch in addition to stiff. The joints are often very painful, and the patient can experience a limited range of motion, especially when waking up in the morning. Arthritis is degenerative in nature, causing increasing damage over time as the joints begin to degrade as a result of chronic irritation. A number of things can lead to arthritis, from autoimmune responses to infections, and it is important to address the inflammation early for the best results.

Applying hot or cold compresses can help back pain.
Applying hot or cold compresses can help back pain.

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In the case of spinal arthritis, the cartilage between the vertebrae starts to break down. The patient experiences back pain which may be intermittent, along with stiffness. He or she may also develop spinal deformities as a result of the joint degeneration. The spine can become bent, humped, or twisted over time, interfering with the patient's ability to stand up straight, walk, or lift the head.

One of the most common forms of arthritis in the spine is osteoarthritis, which is known as spondylosis when it appears in the spine. Rheumatoid arthritis can also strike the spine. Because spinal arthritis shares symptoms with some other conditions, such as damaged discs, it is important for a patient who thinks that he or she has spinal arthritis to be examined by a doctor. The doctor can make a firm diagnosis, ensuring that the patient receives the appropriate treatment.

Medications can be used to reduce the inflammation and manage pain. Many patients also benefit from gentle exercise and physical therapy which strengthen the spine and increase range of motion. Patients may also find that it helps to apply hot or cool compresses to the back to reduce pain, and some also find benefits from herbal medications and dietary adjustments. People with spinal arthritis should plan on making regular visits to the doctor for checkups and adjustments to the treatment plan which will take the patient's changing body into account.

Medications can be used to reduce the inflammation associated with spinal arthritis.
Medications can be used to reduce the inflammation associated with spinal arthritis.

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