Osteoarthritis is a progressive deterioration of the joints as a result of the wear and tear of the normal aging process. It's characterized by the degradation of cartilage covering the ends of the bones that make up the spine. As the cartilage wears, the joint halves rub together, creating painful inflammation and forming bone spurs. Osteoarthritis is seen together with degenerative disc disease.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually appear in middle age, and almost everyone has some degree of arthritis by age 70. Before age 55, the condition occurs equally in both sexes. However, after 55, it's more common in women. Some people may have arthritis, but no symptoms. The neck, low back and sacroiliac joints are frequent sites of osteoarthritis. Less common is pain in the mid back.
If a bone spur compresses a nerve, it can cause symptoms of a pinched nerve or radiculopathy (see herniated disc). The arthritic bone may also decrease the diameter of the spinal canal, leading to a condition called spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis can cause pressure on the spinal nerves and spinal cord.
Evaluation of spine pain is important to rule out other more serious conditions of the spine that may be superimposed on an arthritic spine.
In most patients, osteoarthritis of the spine causes pain in the lower back and the sacroiliac joint. Cervical osteoarthritis of the spine, or cervical spondylosis, is characterized by stiffness and pain in the upper back, neck, shoulders, arms and head.
When it progresses, osteoarthritis can lead to spinal canal stenosis, which results in compressing the spinal cord.
If you're diagnosed with osteoarthritis, you can probably continue to participate in your normal activities. And you can prevent additional damage to your joints by getting started with proactive treatment. Most treatment emphasizes reducing inflammation and maintaining flexibility. You don't have to put up with a stiff neck and aching back; you can manage your pain and control osteoarthritis through:
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