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Arthritis and Your Spine

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Millions of people suffer from arthritis. In fact, arthritis affects approximately 80% of people over the age of 55 in the United States. It is estimated that by the year 2020, over 60 million people will suffer from this often-disabling problem.

Arthritis is actually a term for more than 100 rheumatoid disorders. Common forms include: 

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Juvenile arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

Arthritis can affect any part of the body, even the spine. The information provided in this article focuses on arthritis and the spine.

Quick Anatomy Lesson:  The Spine

 

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The spine is made up of individual bones called vertebrae, which provide support for the spine. These vertebrae are connected in the front of the spine by intervertebral discs that help support the spine and also allow it to move. The many ligaments and muscles that are attached to the back of the spine provide the power for movement.

Arthritis occurs when the cartilage in the joints is worn down as a result of wear and tear, aging, injury, or misuse. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, also includes loss of cartilage, overgrowth of bone and the formation of bone spurs. This causes the bones under the cartilage to rub together, causing pain, swelling and loss of motion of the joint. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint but most often occurs in the hips, knees, hands, or the spine.

Osteoarthritis and the Spine
In the spine, osteoarthritis can cause stiffness and pain in the neck or in the lower back. Cervical arthritis (also called cervical spondylosis) affects the upper spine and neck. Lumbar or lumbosacral arthritis affects the lower back and pelvic area.

Who Gets Arthritis and Why?
Some people are more at risk for developing arthritis than others. The following are some factors that contribute to a person's risk of developing arthritis.

  • Age: Arthritis is more common in people over the age of 50.
  • Overused joints from work- or sports-related activities
  • Injury or trauma to the bones (like fractures)
  • Obesity: Excessive weight places stress on joints.
  • Family history
  • Gender: Women are twice as likely to get arthritis.
  • Chronic illness such as diabetes, cancer, or liver disease
  • Weakened immune system
  • Infections such as Lyme disease
Updated on: 02/25/14
Harry N. Herkowitz, MD
Degenerative arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis, is the most common form of arthritis affecting the spine. As life expectancy continues to increase and people lead active lifestyles into their 80s and 90s, patient education on reducing risk factors and stresses on arthritic joints is critical to maintaining vitality.
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Spinal Arthritis: Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of arthritis include inflammation and joint pain. In the spine, symptoms may also include general back pain, weakness, numbness, and stiffness that decreases with activity. Read about treatment options for spinal arthritis.
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