Spinal Problems Arthritis

“Spinal arthritis” refers to a variety of common conditions involving joint inflammation and back pain. Although spinal arthritis usually refers to osteoarthritis of the spine, other types of spinal arthritis can affect the spine, including rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Osteoarthritis of the spine (also called “degenerative joint disease” or “spondylosis”) generally affects the facet joints, which connect the vertebrae (bones) of the spine. In people with osteoarthritis of the spine, the cartilage between the facet joints breaks down and the joints become inflamed. The breakdown of cartilage and the inflammation lead to osteoarthritis of the spine, causing pain and instability.

Osteoarthritis is generally considered a disease of aging and wear and tear. In order to potentially prevent or delay the onset of this type of spinal arthritis, doctors recommend following a healthy lifestyle and avoiding excessive stress on your spine.

Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Spine

Researchers believe that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when white blood cells mistakenly attack the synovial membrane that lines the joints, causing inflammation. Autoimmune diseases are more common in females. Like osteoarthritis, this type of spinal arthritis can affect the facet joints anywhere in the spine. However, rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the upper neck at the joint between C1 and C2 (the first two vertebrae of the cervical spine), called the “atlantoaxial joint.”

When rheumatoid arthritis affects the spine, the destruction of the joints can lead to instability, pain, and in advanced cases, compression of the spinal cord and nerves.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of spinal arthritis that causes the joints and ligaments of the back to become inflamed and eventually fuse (become joined together and rigid). The cause of ankylosing spondylitis is unknown. However, researchers believe that this type of spinal arthritis involves genetic factors. Although studies are ongoing, there are currently no known ways to prevent ankylosing spondylitis.

Side Effects of Spinal Arthritis

With any type of spinal arthritis, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Bone spurs
  • Instability of the spine
  • Nerve compression.

Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that compresses the spinal cord or nerves, can also occur as the degeneration progresses.

Spinal Arthritis Treatment Options

Spinal arthritis treatment depends on the type of arthritis in question, how it’s affecting you, and other personal health factors. Treatment typically involves medications, physical therapy and exercise. Alternative spinal arthritis treatment options can sometimes help, including:

  • Massage therapy
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Traditional Chinese medicine.

Your doctor will generally only consider surgical spinal arthritis treatment if you have severe, uncontrollable pain or neurological problems.


Cedars-Sinai Staff. (n.d.). Ankylosing spondylitis (Marie-strumpell disease). Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.csmc.edu/5641.html

Ray, C. (n.d.). Understanding osteoarthritis of the spine. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/arthritis/understanding-osteoarthritis-spine

Regan, J. (n.d.). Arthritis and your spine: Introduction. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/spinal-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis/arthritis-your-spine-introduction

Regan, J. (n.d.). Spinal arthritis: Symptoms. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/spinal-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis/spinal-arthritis-symptoms