What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of the joints, with one of the most common locations being the back. This condition occurs due to a breakdown of the firm, rubbery cartilage that acts as a cushion between the bones. As osteoarthritis breaks down this cartilage, it can cause pain, joint swelling, and difficulty moving the joint. As the condition worsens over time, the bones may develop growths, called spurs. Additionally, pieces of bone may chip off and float around in the affected joint, causing an inflammatory process in the body that can further damage the cartilage. In the most developed stages of osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears away almost completely and the bones rub against each other, causing joint pain and severe pain.
What Causes Osteoarthritis of the Spine?
Osteoarthritis can be caused by the following:
- Conditions that affect blood supply to joints
- Overgrowth of bone
- Previous sports injuries
- Repetitive, strenuous activity
Where Can Osteoarthritis of the Spine Develop?
Osteoarthritis can develop in these areas:
- Lower back
- Middle back
- Upper back
Types of Osteoarthritis of the Spine
There are three main types of osteoarthritis:
- Cervical osteoarthritis– Also called cervical spondylosis, cervical osteoarthritis is osteoarthritis pain felt in the neck.
- Lumbar osteoarthritis– Lumbar osteoarthritis is a type of osteoarthritis pain that occurs in the lower section of the back.
- Thoracic osteoarthritis– Thoracic osteoarthritis is a type of osteoarthritis pain felt in the middle and upper portion of the back.
How Does Osteoarthritis Affect the Spine?
Normally, the cartilage that protects and cushions the bones in the spine provides ample support to the back. However, osteoarthritis causes this cartilage to degenerate and cause pain, swelling, and a reduced range of motion within the back. Additionally, the development of osteophytes, or bone spurs, may be a result of osteoarthritis in the spine. These spurs place pressure on the nerves that lead to the spinal column, which can cause weakness and pain in the arms or legs.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Spine?
Osteoarthritis of the spine can include a variety of symptoms. Keep in mind that osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, so symptoms worsen over time.
The most common symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis include:
- Back stiffness
- Limited range of motion in the back
- Tenderness in the spine
- Tingling in the legs
- Weakness or numbness in the legs or arms
What are the Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis of the Spine?
Some typical risk factors of osteoarthritis of the spine include:
- Age – The prevalence of osteoarthritis symptoms increases rapidly at age 45, and become progressively worse thereon.
- Damage to vertebral disc – When a vertebral disc is damaged, it reduces the space between two vertebrae. This can put excess pressure on the joints, causing cartilage to wear away and lead to osteoarthritis.
- Family history– Those who have a family history of osteoarthritis are more likely to develop the disease.
- Gender – Women tend to be more prone to developing osteoarthritis after age 45, while men tend to be more prone before age 45.
- Joint Stress or chronic injury– Those who engage in activities that cause recurring strain to the back and neck are more likely to develop spinal osteoarthritis. Additionally, athletes who are involved in high-impact sports that cause joint stress or injury are more likely to develop this condition.
- Obesity – Those who are obese are five times more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the lower back.
- Trauma – A serious back injury or back surgery can cause joint damage that may lead to osteoarthritis in the future.
How Do I Prevent Osteoarthritis of the Spine?
Osteoarthritis is the result of a combination of factors, many of which can be prevented or modified.
To prevent osteoarthritis of the spine:
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Wear protective gear when performing strenuous activity to protect the back