What are the different types of arthritis of the spine

backache_1That annoying neck and back pain you’ve been dealing with? It may be a sign of arthritis. Spinal arthritis can affect any area of the spine, but it’s most commonly felt in the neck and lower back. See if your symptoms match either of these two types of spinal arthritis below, and learn when it’s time to call your doctor. 

Cervical Osteoarthritis

This is fancy doctor-speak for neck arthritis. You may also hear it referred to as cervical spondylosis or degenerative joint disease. The main symptom of neck arthritis is pain in your neck area, but may also be a type of pain that:

  • Radiates to your shoulder or between your shoulder blades.
  • Is worse when you first wake up, gets better after you start to move around during the day, and then starts reappearing at the end of the day.
  • Feels better with rest.
  • Can be accompanied by a headache in the back of the head.

Treating neck arthritis can start with a combination of rest and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen (aka, Aleve). Physical therapy and chiropractic adjustments may help more severe neck arthritis, while neck exercises can help add strength and range of motion to the neck.

Only in severe cases, where symptoms of neck arthritis are getting in the way of your ability to function, is surgery considered. Though this type of arthritis is chronic, it is rarely progressive.

Lumbar Spine Arthritis

Facet joints link the vertebrae together, and lumbar denotes that this type of arthritis affects the joints in the lower portion of the spine. You’ll feel this arthritis in the lower back. It can be caused by aging and daily wear on the joints, or from an injury, but this type of arthritis will develop slowly over a long period of time, so it’s commonly seen later in life.

Again, the primary symptom of lumbar spine arthritis is pain, but this time in the lower back. It’s a pain that:

  • Is usually worse after resting or sleeping, or comes on when you bend sideways or backward.
  • Can start in the lower back but spread to the buttocks or thighs, but rarely goes below the knee.
  • Does not typically cause numbness or tingling.

Like neck arthritis, people with this type of lower back arthritis rarely need surgery. Typically, a physician will prescribe rest to calm inflammation and pain, and an anti-inflammatory medication. Physical therapy can also help to ease symptoms, as can traction, which is a type of therapy that gently stretches the lower back to take pressure off the facet joints. If these treatments don’t work to alleviate the pain, then surgery may be recommended.

When to Call the Doctor

If your neck or lower back pain is interfering with your daily routine and at-home remedies like rest and anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, aren’t helping, you should ask your physician about next steps. Also make sure to call your doctor if you notice any of these signs:

  • You have a fever that accompanies your pain.
  • The pain and stiffness has come on quickly and out of nowhere.
  • You notice pain and stiffness in your arms, legs or back after sleeping or sitting for short periods.
  • Your child develops a rash along with pain in the knees, wrists or ankles, has a fever, loss of appetite and weight loss—this could be an indication of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.


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