Spinal Problems Arthritis Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is the most common type of arthritis, and osteoarthritis of the spine is a common cause of back pain.

Osteoarthritis of the spine (also called “spinal arthritis” or “spondylosis”) generally affects the facet joints. Facet joints connect the vertebrae (bones) of the spine. In people with spinal arthritis, the cartilage between the facet joints breaks down, and the joints become inflamed and weak. This breakdown of cartilage and inflammation leads to pain and instability in the spine.

In the lumbar spine (lower back), spondylosis (sometimes called “lumbosacral arthritis”) causes stiffness and pain in the low back and sacroiliac joint (where the sacrum connects to the pelvis). In the cervical spine (neck), osteoarthritis (sometimes called “cervical spondylosis”) can cause stiffness and pain in the:

  • Arms
  • Head
  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Upper spine.

Effects of Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Your body’s responses to spinal instability often result in bone spurs (“osteophytes”) on the facet joints and around the spinal vertebrae in an attempt to reestablish stability. Bone spurs do not directly cause pain, but can sometimes irritate or entrap nerves or compress the spinal cord.

When osteoarthritis of the spine causes pain and instability in the facet joints, the condition may also be referred to as “facet joint syndrome” or “facet joint disease.”

Osteoarthritis Treatment

The goal of most treatments of osteoarthritis of the spine is to reduce pain and inflammation and maintain joint mobility and flexibility. Treatment options include:

  • Cold therapy to reduce swelling and pain, or heat therapy to increase blood flow and relax tissues
  • Exercise for strength, flexibility and joint mobility (some doctors recommend yoga and water exercise to reduce pressure on the spine.)
  • Massage to help increase flexibility and circulation
  • Medication to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Nutrition to help the body heal
  • Spinal bracing to limit motion and relieve pressure on the vertebrae
  • Stress management and relaxation exercises
  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) to reduce pain
  • Traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and herbal remedies
  • Weight control to reduce stress on the spine.

Surgery is rarely used to fix spondylosis. However, your doctor might recommend this osteoarthritis treatment if neurological problems occur, such as loss of bladder or bowel control.

Prevention of Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Although osteoarthritis is considered a disease of aging, you can take steps to prevent it or delay its onset. Doctors recommend:

  • Avoiding injury as much as possible, as injured joints are more likely to develop osteoarthritis later in life
  • Eating an overall healthy diet to nourish the joints (According to the Langone Medical Center in New York, people who consume enough vitamin C and vitamin D can delay the onset or progression of arthritis)
  • Exercising to maintain muscle tone that supports the joints
  • Maintaining an appropriate weight to reduce stress on the joints
  • Maintaining good posture, both sitting and standing, to reduce stress on the spine.

If you’d like to avoid any type of spondylosis, including cervical spondylosis, the main key is to follow an overall healthy lifestyle.


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