How Arthritis Can Affect Your Spine

Apr 12, 2023

How Arthritis Can Affect Your Spine

Coastal Spine, with six state-of-the-art locations in New Jersey, offers comprehensive services for painful joint and spine conditions such as arthritis (spondylosis).

The practice includes orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, physical medicine specialists, and rehabilitation experts focused on decreasing pain, restoring mobility, and improving your overall quality of life.

Read what the Coastal Spine team says about arthritis in the spine, who’s vulnerable, and how they can help.

Understanding spinal joints

The spine contains 33 stacked bones (vertebrae) that form the spinal column. Each vertebra has two sets of facet joints that attach a vertebra to the one above. In addition, fibrocartilaginous joints (intervertebral discs) sit between the vertebrae, acting as cushions and spacers.

These joints add strength and stability to the spine, keeping the mid (thoracic) back more rigid while allowing increased flexibility in the neck (cervical spine) and lower (lumbar) back. Unfortunately, each joint in the spine is vulnerable to arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form, often described as wear-and-tear arthritis, but inflammatory types such as rheumatoid arthritis can also involve spinal joints. While arthritis can develop anywhere in the spine, it’s most common in the lower back and neck.

How does arthritis affect the spine?

Early symptoms of spinal arthritis include achy stiffness that’s often worse when you’ve been still for a time, such as during sleep, and improves as you move around.

However, arthritic changes in spinal joints can lead to numerous conditions that may affect spinal alignment, nerves, ligaments, and other tissue structures involved in spinal anatomy.

These conditions, which cause varying degrees of pain and decreased mobility, may include:

  • Ruptured or herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing)
  • Nerve impingement (radiculopathy)
  • Sciatica (lumbar radiculopathy)
  • Thinning, drying, and cracking of the intervertebral discs (degenerative disc disease)
  • Vertebral fractures
  • Kyphosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)
  • Cervicogenic headaches (those that originate in your cervical spine)

Nerve impingement and irritation can also cause pain, tingling, and numbness to travel into your shoulders, arms, or legs.

Treating arthritis in the spine

Treatment goals for arthritis include minimizing further damage to your joints, managing pain, and improving mobility.

At Coastal Spine, your treatment always starts with a thorough evaluation, including a comprehensive review of your symptoms and a physical examination. 

To confirm the diagnosis and gauge the level of spinal damage, your specialist may also order imaging studies such as X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI for a detailed view of your spine’s structures.

Based on evaluation results, your personalized treatment strategy may include:

  • Activity modification
  • Oral medication to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Injection-based therapies
  • Physical rehab
  • Addressing risk factors such as excess weight or smoking
  • Massage

Depending on your response to conservative treatments, your specialist may recommend a minimally invasive surgical procedure to restore spinal alignment or stability.

Schedule an evaluation at Coastal Spine today for outstanding orthopedic care you can trust. Call the office nearest you or request an appointment online.