Arthritis of the Spine

Arthritis of the Spine

Arthritis is not a single disease. Rather, it’s an umbrella term describing all the conditions that cause pain, tenderness, stiffness, and swelling in the body’s joints. Currently, the Arthritis Foundation recognizes over 100 different types of arthritis. 

The Arthritis Foundation and CDC also identify arthritis as a leading cause of disability in the United States. According to the latest statistics, nearly 60 million adults (24% of all adults) suffer from arthritis pain. 

Arthritis can affect any joint in the body — including the joints in the spine. Keep reading to learn more about the arthritis of the spine and how to manage this painful disease. 

An Overview of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, and the type most likely to develop in the spine. Other names for osteoarthritis are “degenerative arthritis” and “wear and tear arthritis” because the disease develops gradually over time from normal wear, tear, and stress on the joints.

Joint surfaces are covered with a smooth, tough layer of cartilage (called articular cartilage) that allows the bones of the joint to glide over each other smoothly during movement. Over time, articular cartilage can wear away from the surfaces, causing the bones of the joint to rub against each other. This painful friction leads to joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and inflammation. Additionally, bone-on-bone friction can cause bone spurs to develop on joint surfaces.

Degenerative arthritis commonly affects weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, ankles, and spine because we place the most pressure on these joints during daily movements.

Osteoarthritis and the Spine

Spinal osteoarthritis occurs in the facet joints that connect the vertebrae along the spine. The primary purpose of facet joints is to allow motion in the spine — they help bend, twist, and flex with ease. 


When cartilage breakdown occurs, it can cause neck or back pain, stiffness (especially first thing in the morning), tenderness, swelling, and a loss of spine flexibility and mobility. 


Bone spur formation is a common side effect of spinal osteoarthritis. When bone is injured or damaged, it responds by creating more bone in an effort to repair itself. The resulting new bone forms in small, hard overgrowths on facet joints and around the vertebrae. Bone spurs don’t always cause pain. However, if they irritate or compress nearby spinal nerves, then they can cause radiating pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling down an arm or leg.


Spinal osteoarthritis symptoms typically worsen over time as joint degeneration progresses. People with severe spinal arthritis often have increasing difficulty walking, standing, climbing stairs, and sitting comfortably as the disease progresses.

Symptoms

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What Should I Do If I Have Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

If you’re experiencing persistent pain, stiffness when you wake up in the morning, and difficulty moving your spine through its full range of motion, it’s time to call your orthopaedic doctor for a consultation. 

At BEST Health System, we offer a full range of treatment options to help you manage pain and improve back strength and mobility to slow the process of joint degeneration. Please don’t wait to get the care and treatment you need to maintain the lifestyle you love!

Reach out to our patient care team today to schedule your first appointment at BEST. 

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