Osteoarthritis of the Spine
Is It Spinal Arthritis?
When you roll out of bed, do you automatically massage a dull twinge in your lower back or stiff neck? Perhaps your back locks up when you rotate your torso to grab grocery bags from the car. Perhaps nagging, sharp pain around the waist has forfeited your gym routine. What is the cause of these changes to your freedom to function? Read on to find out if osteoarthritis of the spine (OA) is a possibility.
What Is Osteoarthritis of the Spine?
The amazing human backbone is a column of bones (vertebrae), separated by shock-absorbing, cartilage-containing cushions (disks). The spinal column’s hollow center protects the spinal cord, a network of nerves governing large and small movements, sensations, digestion, and breathing. Wear and tear as you age or repetition of certain movements can cause disks to degenerate, a progressive condition called osteoarthritis of the spine (OA), also known as spondylosis.
Age and Repetitive Motions Can Break Down Disks
As you get older, the cushions between your vertebrae get older, too. A lifetime of oft-repeated motions such as jogging in the park, skiing, standing at a classroom blackboard, or cradling a phone on your shoulder can compromise your spine’s shock absorbers. Over time, cartilage may thin, dry, or bulge. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates almost 28 percent of people older than 60 exhibit osteoarthritis symptoms.
Injury and overuse also contribute to disk degeneration. However, the biggest preventable cause of OA of the spine is obesity. Adding extra pounds mechanically stresses many of your joints, including those in your spine. According to the Arthritis Foundation, recent research indicates that excess body weight activates the production and distribution of chemicals throughout the body that damage joints.
OA’s Ouch Factor
Putting a plate in the dishwasher, looking both ways before crossing a street, or tying your shoes—even the simplest tasks involve your spine. OA of the spine has such a pervasive “ouch factor,” that prevention and treatment strategies are worth learning. Be kind to your body’s shock absorbers by committing to healthy habits.
To slow damage, you can change your behaviors in known causal areas. For example, obesity is a proven OA cause, so you should maintain a healthy weight to avoid OA. Other tips include:
- trying low-impact, muscle-building activities to help weak muscles better support stiff joints, such as bicycling, swimming, walking, or rowing
- taking breaks if your job requires repetitive motion
- using headphones instead of cradling the phone by your ear.
Check out “51 Ways to Be Good to Your Joints.”
Living With OA of the Spine
To diagnose OA of the spine, first your doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. He or she then may order an X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or analysis of fluid drawn from your disk in order to confirm an OA diagnosis. In addition to your doctor’s advice, Arthritis Today offers daily living tips and self-help arthritis devices to minimize OA pain on a day-to-day basis.
Your doctor will suggest options to control OA pain and improve function in the affected area of your spine. Both drugs and non-drug therapies—such as exercises to reduce stress, build muscle, and control weight—can reduce pain. For example, walking is one of the best exercises to treat OA. Since there’s no cure for OA yet, taking strides toward an overall healthy lifestyle is an important step in the right direction.