Arthritis of the Spine

Arthritis of the Spine


If you are able to read this pamphlet on arthritis of the spine, able to vote and drive legally, you probably have arthritis in your spine!

Arthritis can best be described as changes to the bones, ligaments and other structures of the spine with aging. This is often referred to osteoarthritis and is normal. Do not confuse this with rheumatoid arthritis, which is very uncommon of the spine and affects fewer people. 

The reality is that studies show that our spines start developing early arthritic changes in our early 20's and then just slowly, but surely progresses. Any patient over the age of 30 that has an X-ray, CT scan or MRI can have a report that shows some form of degeneration. In most cases this part of the normal aging process. Reports include words like spurs (little pieces of extra bone growth), osteophytes (little loose pieces of bone) or stenosis (narrowing of the little holes in which nerves run through). These changes tend to be normal and should not be of concern. Arthritis of the spine affects everyone. The only difference between people is how severe the arthritic changes are and how fast they progress. 

The rate and severity of arthritis has been linked to:

  • Genetics. Sorry- it may be mom and dad's fault. Numerous studies show that arthritis tend to show up in families. No need to worry here- it just explains to you some of the changes we see on imaging studies and you need to take care of your spine (see below).
  • Previous injury. If you damage your knee early in life and on a regular basis, the joint most likely will give you problems later in life. The same applies to the spine. One of the biggest predictors of low back pain later in life is low back pain in early life. As with the genetic factors, it just means you will need to take care of your back.
  • Job. For many years studies have looked at physically challenging jobs and blamed them for injury to the spine. The reality is that sedentary jobs, especially sitting, are bad for the spine. Our spines like to move. Movement allows for blood flow, nutrition and growth. Did you know that in sitting the pressure in a disc (cushion of the back) is almost twice as high than standing. This most likely predisposes the disc to injury and wear-and-tear.

What should you do about it?

First of all- don't worry about it. Your back is probably healthier than the physical therapist treating you! All joints in our body (including the spine) responds favorably to movement and exercise. Stronger muscles support joints and takes unwanted stress off the joints. Movement forces blood and oxygen in/around the joints, helping keep joints healthy and less painful. Watch your postures- be aware of the stresses you put on your spine: Do you sit driving to work? Do you sit all day at work? Do you sit driving home? Then, at the end of the day, do you sit and watch someone get coted off an island? See the pattern? By making small lifestyle changes, you can slow down the degeneration process- alternate working positions (getting up), walking briskly for 5-10 minutes at lunch, doing a few easy stretches 2-3x/week. A little movement can go a long way...

 

*For more information- ask your physical therapist. This is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. 

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