Arthritis can affect any joint in your body, including your spine. Arthritis in the back can be extremely painful and in some cases debilitating. Inflammation and stiffness can make it difficult to walk, stand, or even sit.
While living with spinal arthritis can be very difficult, there are effective ways to manage and deal with the condition.
What are symptoms of arthritis in the back?
Common symptoms of arthritis in the back include:
- Back pain, particularly lower back pain
- Limited range of motion
- Stiffness or reduced flexibility in the spine
- Functional limitations, such as inability to perform everyday activities
- Tenderness of the affected vertebrae
- Grinding feeling when moving the spine
- Tingling, numbness, weakness, or sharp pains in the arms or legs
- Migraines (when the upper or cervical spine is affected)
- Pain in the pelvis, butt, or thighs
What types of arthritis can affect your back?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of spinal arthritis, and the risk typically increases with age. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage that cushions the ends of the joints wears away. As the cartilage degenerates, it can lead to pain and stiffness.
Spondyloarthritis (SpA) is a term for different types of arthritis that share specific symptoms, typically inflammation in the spine. There are two main types of SpA: axial (in which symptoms mainly affect the back although different joints may be involved) and peripheral (in which different joints in the body, such as the hands, feet, or knees, are affected but the back may be affected as well).
Reactive arthritis is a kind of peripheral spondyloarthritis that occurs in response to an infection in your body, often caused by gastrointestinal conditions.
How is back arthritis diagnosed?
Diagnosing back arthritis starts with taking your medical history and conducting a physical examination of the back and legs to evaluate flexibility and ensure the nerves are working properly. Your doctor may ask you about:
- Where the pain is
- How long the pain has lasted
- What the pain feels like or how severe it is
- What activities or exercises worsen or lessen the pain
- How the pain is affecting your daily activities
What are treatment options for arthritis in the back?
Treatment for spinal arthritis varies depending on factors such as age, type, and severity, as well as other medical conditions. Treatment may include:
- Analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Analgesics (such as acetaminophen) can help relieve mild to moderate pain and are the first-line medication for osteoarthritis.
- Corticosteroids: Steroids are anti-inflammatory medications that may be prescribed when there is an inflammatory cause for back pain. Your doctor may at first recommend steroids if you have a systemic inflammatory type of arthritis.
- Radiofrequency ablation: Radiofrequency ablation is a short-term strategy wherein the nerves to the facet joint are burned with a needle. The treatment can provide longer-term relief from pain.
- Surgery: Surgery is the last resort with regards to back arthritis. Spinal fusion and lumbar disc replacements are some of the surgical options that may be performed.
- Lifestyle modifications: Lifestyle modifications that can help ease back arthritis are light exercise, weight management, physiotherapy, and posture adjustment.
Feintuch S. Arthritis in Your Back: Early Signs of Back Arthritis, and What to Do About It. CreakyJoints. https://creakyjoints.org/symptoms/arthritis-in-back/
Arthritis Foundation. When Back Pain May Mean Arthritis. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/where-it-hurts/when-back-pain-may-mean-arthritis
University Hospitals. Arthritis in the Spine - A Full Spectrum of Care. https://www.uhhospitals.org/services/spine-services/Conditions-and-Treatments/arthritis-spine
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