Back pain can be a daunting concern for many Americans.
In fact, back pain generally falls in the top ten reasons that people visit the doctor. As a spine specialist, arthritis of the spine is one of the biggest causes for surgical interventions.
When reviewing a patient’s symptoms and imagery, it is very common for arthritis to present in the form of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in the spine. This is identified by the irregular shapes of the anatomy found on x-rays, MRIs or CAT scans. It affects how patients move and how active they can be due to this pain. Identifying the type of arthritis is important, because each one causes different problems in the spine. At times, it is so severe that the patient needs to see a rheumatologist to treat the arthritis.
Osteoarthritis affects the many joints throughout the body and wears away cartilage. The spine has three joints per level and arthritis wears these joints away causing pain with movement. Osteoarthritis also causes bone spurring of the vertebral bodies which can impinge on the spinal canal pressing on the spinal cord or nerves. These boney spurs or osteophytes cause major problems for patients and can lead to radicular symptoms due to narrowing of the spaces that surround the nerves, invading their space and leaving little room for them to move.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is similar to osteoarthritis in that it affects the other joints of the body but unfortunately can be debilitating in the spine. Rheumatoid arthritis affects people at a younger age and generally presents in the cervical spine more often than the thoracic and lumbar spine. The deterioration caused by the RA in the spine, causes the spine to become unstable and slip out of alignment at times, causing the need for surgery.
What can be done to prevent or slow down arthritis to prevent or even reduce the inflammatory response such as arthritis?
Unfortunately arthritis cannot be prevented. Currently there is no cure for this disease. However, there are some recommendations that can slow down the progression of the disease and reduce the symptoms that may occur.
Recommendations provided to our patients to take care of their backs include the following:
1. Stop smoking. Smoking has been shown in research studies conducted at Johns Hopkins University showed a direct correlation between low back pain and smoking. Smoking cessation should be a top priority for patients suffering with back pain.
2. A healthy diet. Healthy diets rich in nutrients and good fats can not only help a patient lose weight but can also make them feel better overall.
3. Helpful tips that can be done at home to reduce the symptoms of arthritis of the spine include, back exercises and stretching with programs such as Pilates or yoga. This helps maintain the mobility of the joints and decreases some of the pain associated with the stiff sensation that is perceived. Combined with anti-inflammatory diet this can have a direct effect on the amount of pain caused by arthritis.
There are many credible sources where this information can be found, such as the Arthritis Foundation. But, it’s important to know that if the symptoms persist or become worse, you need to see your doctor.