Most people associate osteoarthritis with stiff, painful knees and hips, but osteoarthritis commonly affects your spine. In fact, almost 20% of people aged 45-65 and nearly 60% of adults over 65 have spinal arthritis.
When you have spinal osteoarthritis, the condition does more than cause back pain. It affects the overall health and stability of your spine and puts the spinal nerves at risk of being pinched and injured.
As a spine expert, Richard B. Kim, MD, has the skill and experience to treat spinal osteoarthritis. However, he would rather help you prevent this painful and progressive condition. Here’s what you need to know about spinal osteoarthritis and how to prevent it.
Two joints connect each vertebra to its adjacent vertebrae. These spinal joints, called facet joints, are structurally similar to your knee and hip. Unfortunately that means they’re just as vulnerable to osteoarthritis.
Cartilage covers the bones in the facet joint, allowing them to glide smoothly when your spine moves. The joints are also surrounded by connective tissues called the synovium. The synovial tissues produce fluids that nourish and lubricate the joint.
Spinal arthritis most often develops in your lower back (lumbar spine) because it bears the weight of your upper body. When your spine is healthy, the facet joints bear about 33% of the weight load. As spinal discs degenerate, the joints bear up to 70% of the load.
The effect of daily wear and tear, together with degenerating discs, leads to facet joint osteoarthritis. As a result, the cartilage wears down, inflammation develops, the supporting muscles cramp, the synovial fluid stops functioning, and bone spurs build up.
The changes associated with spinal osteoarthritis in your lower back cause:
If osteoarthritis affects your neck (cervical spine), you experience all the same changes and symptoms. The only difference is that pinched nerves in your neck cause pain that travels down your arms.
The top two cervical vertebrae support your head and allow head movement. The joint between these vertebrae is different from facet joints, but it can still develop osteoarthritis.
Your age is the top risk factor for spinal osteoarthritis. The longer you live, the more stress your spine endures, and the cumulative effect leads to spinal osteoarthritis. Though taking preventive steps at any age may help, the earlier you begin, the better your chances are of preventing the condition.
The best tips for lowering your risk of developing spinal osteoarthritis include:
Being overweight places incredible stress on all your weight-bearing joints, including your lower back. Carrying excess weight can lead to spinal osteoarthritis that may not have developed without the added stress. And once osteoarthritis develops, being overweight speeds up arthritic changes.
Extra weight has another influence on your spinal joints. Fat cells release inflammatory agents that affect your joints. They also release hormones like leptin that directly influence the breakdown of cartilage. As your weight goes up, you have higher levels of these damaging substances.
In addition to helping you lose weight, exercise improves mobility and strengthens the muscles supporting the facet joints and spine. Movement also keeps the synovial fluid flowing through the joint.
The best way to support your spine is with an exercise regimen that focuses on all your core muscles. However, before starting an exercise routine, it’s important to have a thorough spine evaluation.
After examining your spine, we can let you know if you have any problems that need special attention when you exercise. We usually recommend meeting with a physical therapist. They create an individualized plan that’s safe for your spine and meets your health needs.
If you have a condition that increases inflammation (like osteoarthritis or being overweight), the foods you eat can either help calm the inflamed tissues or make the inflammation worse.
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meat, and fermented dairy products like yogurt are all anti-inflammatory foods. You should limit foods like full-fat dairy products, red meat, and processed meats.
If you have ongoing back or neck pain, don’t wait to call Richard B. Kim, MD. Early treatment paves the way for better, long-term outcomes.