- Posted on: Aug 15 2017
Do you know what’s the most common chronic condition affecting the joints? If you said knee injuries, you’re wrong. It’s osteoarthritis. You may know it as degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis. It most often affects the knees, hips, lower back, and neck.
At DFW Center for Spinal Disorders, we treat various areas that are affected by osteoarthritis, so here’s some information about it.
What is it?
Osteoarthritis can be thought of as “wear and tear” arthritis. It involves the breakdown of the cartilage in the joints and is most common in the weight-bearing joints: the hips, knees, and spine. It can affect other joints such as the shoulder, but this is often due to a previous injury to the area. All in all, 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis. At DFW, we deal with its affects on the spine.
In healthy joints, the cartilage acts as a shock absorber, reducing the impact and friction in the joints. When a person has osteoarthritis, the cartilage breaks down, becomes stiff, and loses its elasticity.
In the spine, the damage usually involves the facet joints. The surface of these joints is lined with smooth cartilage to allow for movement as the two sides of the joint rub against one another. When the cartilage on one side gets chipped, torn, or degraded then every time the spine moves the injured cartilage gouges the neighboring cartilage, causing more damage. This increases friction, which leads to inflammation. This is especially prevalent in the lower back, as nerves exit the facet joints. When the swollen facet joints transmit a pain signal through those nerves, the message signals the back muscles to spasm. The combination of inflammation and muscle spasms equals lower back pain.
Why does this happen in the back?
The spinal facet joints in the lower back are prone to developing osteoarthritis. This is because these joints are quite small compared to the amount of weight they bear. Over time, the resulting stress and strain make them prone to damage to the cartilage. This is the degenerative effect of osteoarthritis. Torn discs, the soft gel-filled pads between the vertebrae, can also lead to more stress on the facet joints.
When osteoarthritis leads to chronic lower back pain, we first look for non-surgical options. These may include:
- A long-term physical therapy regimen to give you the exercises needed to strengthen the surrounding muscles.
- A change in posture. This can include things such as moving your car seat forward, so your legs have more bend, or using a support in your lower back when riding in the car or sitting in a chair at home.
- Adjustments in activities such as changing a long daily commute or breaking it up with rest periods.
- Use of anti-inflammatory medications.
If these non-surgical treatments don’t seem to have much effect, surgery such as bone fusion could be the only way to address the pain.
If you have back or neck pain, it’s not something to simply deal with. Let the team at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders help you. Call us at 817-916-4685.