Arthritis of the Spine
  • Muscle stiffness, limited range of motion
  • Crackling and popping when you roll or turn your head
  • Numbness or tingling along the arm or hand
  • Muscle weakness or grip strength in the arm
  • Pain in the upper back or shoulders
  • Difficulty walking, balancing, or managing your legs
  • Stiffness when getting out of bed that eases after 20 minutes or so
  • Any weird, unexplained symptoms in the body (it's common for people with arthritis in their low back to complain of bowel problems)
  • First, let's talk about the anatomy of the spine. Your spine is made up of vertebrae (bones) that are separated by discs (a fibrous cushion with a gel core). Running down the back of the vertebrae is your spinal cord, and coming out between each vertebrae are spinal nerves. These nerves go everywhere in your body and transmit the signals coming from your brain.

    If you have arthritis in the neck and suffer from neck pain, here is a well written article that explains all of the things that may be causing it. Click here to see the information on neck pain anatomy.

    In a healthy spine, the discs are the cushion between the bones, and they allow plenty of room for the nerves to come out between each vertebrae. The inter-vertebral discs don't actually have their own blood supply, they absorb nutrients from the surrounding tissues. This is one reason proper motion of the spine is so important to its overall health.

    Development of Arthritis Spine Pain

    With arthritis in the spine, the discs dry out and lose some of their cushioning ability. You can see in the pictures above how that decreases the size of the holes that the nerves exit out of. It also puts more stress on the bones.

    When that happens a few things start to go wrong. First, the bones feel unstable so they start to lay down more calcium in order to protect themselves (an extreme example of this is a broken bone; it's the same process). That calcium eventually becomes bone spurs. In a very advanced case, the spurs of two adjacent vertebrae may grow towards each other and try to "fuse" together to add stability to the spine.

    As the discs dry out and the arthritis in spine gets worse, they become thinner and weaker, and eventually the gel core may "herniate" or leak out. This can put pressure directly on the spinal cord causing symptoms anywhere below that spinal segment (depending on what part of the cord is touched) or it can put pressure on the spinal nerves.

    Severe cases that are not managed may lead to spinal stenosis (neck or low back).

    Other Problems Caused by Spine Arthritis

    Patients who come in for carpal tunnel treatmentoften find out that they have arthritis of the spine that is indirectly causing their problem. They may also have pain in the shoulder, arms, or hands. In the low back, there might be pain in the hip, buttock or thigh or sciatic pain running down the leg to the foot.

    At this point, there is no cure for the patient. The damage has been done, and all we can do is manage the arthritis of the spine and its symptoms. A medical doctor would probably recommend anti-inflammatories and pain relievers to the patient to start, or maybe physical therapy. Depending on the success of those, the next step may be injections into the spine to decrease pain and inflammation. In severe cases, surgery might be recommended to remove part of the bone (a laminectomy) or fuse the vertebrae together to stabilize them.

    Chiropractic offers a different approach for arthritis of the spine. In my office I recommend chiropractic adjustments (and I have gentle, low force techniques for patients with severe pain and deterioration or bone density loss), infrared K-Laser therapy, and home back pain stretching exercise.

    Remember how the discs don't have their own blood supply? By adjusting the spine, we put movement back into that joint which allows it to absorb nutrients better. In my opinion, a chiropractor is the ideal arthritis doctor because we allow the joints to get nutrients without the harmful side effects of the drugs that mask pain.

    The infrared laser (which has been cleared by the FDA to treat arthritis pain) speeds healing by increasing blood supply (blood carries ALL the nutrients to the tissues) and speeding up the metabolism at a cellular level (think of metabolism as the eating and breathing of a cell). In effect, it just makes the healing process faster, with the added bonus of decreasing pain signals to the brain!

    Click here to see patient testimonials.

    Click here to see how back pain stretching exercise can help relieve arthritis of the spine pain.

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