- Posted on: Mar 30 2017
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its healthy cells and tissues. In disorder, the membranes around the joints become inflamed and release enzymes that cause the surrounding cartilage and bone to wear away.
It’s estimated that around 2.1 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis. It occurs in all racial and ethnic groups but is two to three times more prevalent in women than men.
Of particular interest to the team at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders is the link between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. There are various reasons for this — everything from the glucocortoid medications prescribed to increased inactivity due to pain to a direct cause of the disease — but this bone loss can affect the cervical spine. In fact, 86 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis have cervical spine involvement.
What does rheumatoid arthritis do to the spine?
Rheumatoid arthritis’s autoimmune inflammation can affect and damage the ligaments, bones, and synovial joints in the cervical spine. As a result of this damage, the spine can become unstable. This can lead to spinal cord compression. This then leads to pain and on to motor or sensory disturbances such as decreased sensation, difficulty moving either the arms or the legs, and other nerve-related problems.
What are signs of arthritis impacting the spine?
One of the earliest complaints is the pain in the neck and base of the head. This pain can radiate to the ears. Neck motion increases pain. This can even lead to shock-like sensations radiating into the body and the extremities. This is a sign of spinal cord compression. In time, this will lead to weakness in the hands and feet, clumsiness with the hands, and problems walking.
Testing for bone loss
At DFW Center for Spinal Disorders, we use cervical spine x-rays and MRIs to gauge the overall bone alignment and the degree of bone loss caused by arthritis. MRIs provide information about the spinal cord and brain stem and their degree of compression.
Non-operative treatment includes management of rheumatoid arthritis, various forms of support such as soft collars, physical therapy, patient education, and monitoring of any neurological changes.
In a patient shows significant cervical instability, we may need to use surgery to stabilize the spine, reduce pain, and prevent further deformity. Our surgical options include various fusion techniques.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to not only think of the joints but also the possible effect on the spine. Call us at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders, 817-916-4685, and let’s check for bone loss and other possible effects.