How Arthritis of the Spine Affects Your Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately a quarter of all American adults have arthritis. When it settles into the spinal cord, arthritis causes all sorts of problems. Let arthritis of the spine progress, and it can really cramp your style—and your joints.
Getting a diagnosis allows you to get the treatment necessary to slow the progression of arthritis and maintain your quality of life in the process. An accurate diagnosis comes via a specialized scan called a myelogram.
What causes spinal arthritis?
Arthritis of the spine comes in all shapes and sizes. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis throughout the body, including the spine. It’s caused by wear and tear on affected joints. With osteoarthritis of the spine, that means wear and tear on the facet joints, those places where vertebrae meet. This causes the cushion between the vertebrae to break down. The end result: bone rubbing against bone. Over time, this can cause bony outgrowths called spurs to develop. Spinal stenosis may also set in, which narrows the tunnel nerves that run through the spine causing pressure on nerve roots and the spinal cord.
Osteoarthritis isn’t the only form of arthritis that affects the spine. Less common types include:
- Enteropathic arthritis—A potential complication of inflammatory bowel disease. It typically impacts the joint connecting the spine and pelvis.
- Psoriatic arthritis—Inflammatory arthritis that often affects joints and skin. It can cause vertebrae to fuse together.
- Reactive arthritis—A side effect of a gastrointestinal, urinary tract or genital infection.
- Rheumatoid arthritis—Caused when the immune system attacks healthy synovium, a tissue that produces fluid that keep joints moving smoothly. Damaged synovium grows thicker and limits joint movement.
Am I at risk for arthritis of the spine?
Anyone can experience spinal arthritis. That said, you’re more likely to experience it with the following risk factors:
- Age—Your risk rises as you get older.
- Gender—Women experience spinal arthritis more than men.
- Genes—Certain genes raise the likelihood of spinal arthritis.
- Infection—Spine, genital, gastrointestinal or urinary tract infection can cause spinal arthritis.
- Inflammatory bowel disease—IBD increases the risk for certain types of spinal arthritis. IBD includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Smoking—As with nearly all diseases, arthritis of the spine is more common among smokers.
- Spinal injury—Trauma and repetitive movements raise the risk.
What arthritis of the spine feels like
When you think of arthritis, you think of joint pain and stiffness—and those are two of the most common complaints. But they’re not the only symptoms you may experience.
Arthritis of the spine can also cause the following:
- Grinding sensations when you twist, bend or otherwise move your spine.
- Headache, if rooted in the upper spine.
- Joint pain, particularly in the lower back.
- Pain and other odd sensations. Spinal nerve damage may cause sharp pains, numbness, weakness or tingling sensations in the arms or legs.
- Spinal stenosis may result in bowel problems and other lower-body issues.
- Stiffness in the spine. A loss of flexibility can make it hard to turn your head to the side or straighten your back.
- Reduced range of motion and ability to function. Spinal arthritis can make it difficult to get out of bed, tie your shoes or walk.
- Vertebrae may be tender to the touch.
How a myelogram helps diagnose spinal arthritis
Diagnosing arthritis of the spine begins with a doctor’s visit. Your doctor will explain your symptoms, review your medical history and perform a physical exam.
If your doctor suspects spinal arthritis, you’ll need a myelogram. During the scan, an X-ray technician injects a special dye near the spinal cord. Continuous X-ray images known as fluoroscopy are then taken of the dye’s movements. Your doctor will review these images for a clear picture of what’s going on inside your spine.
In certain cases, blood, nerve and other tests confirm specific diagnoses. They also determine whether arthritis has caused damage beyond the spinal column. If it seems arthritis is not causing your back pain, your doctor or chiropractor may prescribe a lumbar spine MRI.
Once diagnosed, your doctor will determine an appropriate treatment. Though there is no cure, spinal arthritis can be managed. Lifestyle modifications and physical therapy are good first steps. Medication can be beneficial when needed. And in rare cases, surgery is necessary to provide pain relief from compressed or pinched nerves.
Fortunately, American Health Imaging offers myelogram scanning technology in a cost-effective, complication-free setting. Looking for a quick, painless myelogram experience? Learn what to expect from your myelogram and how to schedule your appointment today.