Arthritis is the root of chronic pain for many individuals. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, approximately one in four Americans over the age of 18 have arthritis that has been identified and formally diagnosed by a doctor.
For some individuals, arthritis can be easily managed, while for other patients, arthritis can mean persistent pain, decreased mobility, and even physical deformation. The exact treatment for a patient’s arthritis depends both on the type or types of arthritis that he or she has and the current severity of the arthritis.
Arthritis is not reversible, but can often be managed with the help of appropriate medical professionals. In this blog, we discuss the general characteristics of arthritis as well as five of the most common types of arthritis of the spine.
What Is Arthritis?
While specific types of arthritis are often simply called arthritis in everyday conversation, there are actually over 100 different varieties of arthritis. In a medical sense, the term arthritisrefers to diseases and discomfort that are directly related to the joints.
Some types of arthritis, like osteoarthritis, can affect virtually any joints in the body, while other varieties of arthritis tend to only appear in particular bodily regions, such as the lower extremities or hands.
A patient’s arthritis symptoms largely depend on the type of arthritis they have, as we’ll discuss in more detail in the next section.
What Are the Most Common Types of Arthritis of the Spine?
The vertebrae of the spine are highly vulnerable to several types of arthritis, but most patients with arthritis of the spine develop one of the following varieties.
Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis, with 31 million of the 50 million American adults diagnosed with arthritis suffering from this variety. Osteoarthritis appears as bones and cartilage wear over time, which is why most patients with osteoarthritis are middle-aged or older.
In the spine, osteoarthritis occurs as the cartilage between vertebrae becomes weaker and thinner. This wearing of cartilage can cause severe pain and potential spinal deformation if the condition is allowed to advance.
Even patients who do not experience pain from the condition itself may develop bone spurs that may interfere with normal nerve function, resulting in tingling or numbness, shooting pains, and muscle issues.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by autoimmune disease. While the exact cause is unknown, researchers speculate that rheumatoid arthritis can occur after an infection when the immune system mistakes the joints for bacteria or viruses.
Rheumatoid arthritis tends to be highly localized and may only appear in one or two vertebrae when it affects the spine. Patients with this variety of arthritis may notice visible swelling in the affected area.
- Psoriatic Arthritis
As the name suggests, psoriatic arthritis is linked to the skin disease psoriasis. Individuals who have psoriasis can eventually develop joint issues related to the condition. In patients who develop psoriatic arthritis, the arthritis occurs in the spine approximately 20% of the time.
When psoriatic arthritis develops in the back, the condition can fuse vertebrae together via bony protrusions. The fusing may reduce spinal mobility and cause chronic back pain in the affected area.
- Enteropathic Arthritis
It’s no secret that many of the body’s systems are affected by changes in other systems. One of the lesser known connections is between the digestive tract and the spine. We discussed this connection in detail in our previous blog, “The Connection Between Your Digestive Health and Back Pain.”
One of the ways that digestive issues can contribute to spinal problems is through the development of enteropathic arthritis. Approximately 5% of individuals with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases also develop enteropathic arthritis in the sacroiliac joints of the lower back.
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis manifests similarly to enteropathic arthritis. Like enteropathic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis causes stiffness and vertebral fusing in the lower back. Ankylosing spondylitis develops due to a chronic inflammatory disease.
This variety of arthritis may affect the mobility of the back, hips, and legs. Early treatment can prevent the joints from fusing together, but once the fibrous connection has been formed, the joint deformation is likely permanent.
In addition to the common types of arthritis of the spine listed above, arthritis can occur due to certain types of infection. If you have arthritis of the spine, your vertebrae may also exhibit the characteristics of more than one type of arthritis.
If you have been diagnosed with arthritis of the spine, discuss your management options with your general practitioner and with a pain management specialist. With appropriate treatment, your arthritis may have little to no impact on your quality of life over time.
At Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates, we help patients with arthritis of the spine find the routines, minor treatments, and medical procedures they need to live their lives with as little pain as possible.