If your back hurts, and you’re over 50, odds are better than average that you may be suffering from some form of arthritis. This may not be the only cause of your back pain, and there may be other factors contributing to your discomfort, but arthritis is the most common cause of back pain, especially when we’re on the other side of 50.
The most common form of arthritis is Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that results from the deterioration or damaging of joint cartilage. When the protective cushioning of the cartilage is worn away or damaged, bone spurs may develop, which adds pressure on spinal nerves, causing pain, weakness and loss of function in the joint. In the back, this can also lead to spinal vertebrae “locking up,” limiting movement and flexibility.
Osteoarthritis in the back is often described using the area of the spine in which the disease is located:
Cervical Spondylosis —Osteoarthritis symptoms in the Cervical Vertebrae of the neck, the top seven vertebrae of the spine
Thoracic Osteoarthritis — Osteoarthritis in the 12 vertebrae forming the center of the spine, connected to the ribs
Lumbar Osteoarthritis — Osteoarthritis in the lower back, describing symptoms in the five lowest, and largest, vertebrae
Damage to the Facet Joints on each vertebra is the most common cause of Spinal Osteoarthritis. Facet Joints connect the vertebrae while also limiting movement in the spine to protect the muscles, ligaments, cord and nerves of the spine from damage. As the cartilage between the joints becomes damaged, friction is increased, triggering inflammation.
Osteoarthritis results from age-related wear-and-tear, repetitive stress or traumatic injury. Symptoms include pain, decreased flexibility, stiffness and muscle spasms.
In the early stages, Spinal Osteoarthritis may not result in frequent or chronic pain, but you may feel occasional tightness, minor aches, localized tenderness or brief, stabbing pain. Weakness and stiffness, especially when getting out of bed, are two of the most common early signs of Osteoarthritis in the spine.
As the disease progresses, bone spurs may form on the Facet Joints. These spurs often result in irritation, inflammation, swelling and radiating nerve pain. You may even notice a crunching feeling or popping sound when you move. This crunching, called crepitus, is a common indicator of advancing Osteoarthritis.
As the bone spurs grow and the cartilage continues to wear away, the spinal cord or nerves may feel pinched, leading to pain, numbness and tingling. Sometimes, the pain in the lumbar spine radiates down into the back, hips and buttocks. Cervical spine pain may radiate into the shoulders and upper arms. Burning and numbness are both common.
Dr. Skaliy begins with a patient interview to discuss your medical history. From there, he completes a physical examination to further assess the location and extent of the injury or disease. To discover the nature of the disease causing the pain and other symptoms, Dr. Skaliy may recommend medical diagnostic imaging including X-rays or MRI tests. X-rays show bone damage, spurs and cartilage loss. MRIs reveal damage to discs, as well as narrowing of the spaces around spinal nerves.
If you catch the disease early enough, you may be able to treat the pain and other symptoms related to Osteoarthritis of the spine and delay or prevent further joint degeneration with a few simple at-home remedies:
In advanced cases of Spinal Osteoarthritis accompanied by chronic pain, doctors may recommend surgical intervention. However, surgeries come with many adverse risks, and some surgeries used to treat Spinal Osteoarthritis have proven to be ineffective.
As the disease progresses, becoming more painful or debilitating, Dr. Skaliy may recommend further treatments, including:
Epidural Steroid Injections — Minimally-invasive treatment that decreases or eliminates inflammation
Facet Joint Injections — Relieves the pain and inflammation while helping to diagnose the source of your pain
Medial Branch Block Injections — Anesthetic is injected into the joints to relieve Facet Joint Inflammation
Spinal Cord Stimulation — A minimally-invasive procedure that delivers soothing electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, resulting in significant pain relief
Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy — PRP uses concentrated blood platelets, taken directly from the patient, to enhance the body’s own regenerative capabilities
Stem Cell Therapy — This minimally-invasive, non-surgical treatment is proven to significantly reduce pain related to Osteoarthritis as well as dramatically increase joint function.
Many patients who received Stem Cell Therapy specifically to treat Osteoarthritis have reported significant improvement and outstanding results including drastically reduced pain and substantially improved function and noticeable improvements in their quality of life.