Illness Spotlight – Osteoarthritis of the spine

What is Osteoarthritis of the Spine?

Osteoarthritis of the spine is a breakdown of the cartilage of the joints and discs in the neck and lower back. Sometimes, osteoarthritis produces spurs that put pressure on the nerves leaving the spinal column. This can cause weakness and pain in the arms or legs.

There are a number of reasons why some people are particularly disposed to osteoarthritis. However, as with nearly all abnormal conditions affecting the body, it is likely that a combination of risk factors work together to cause osteoarthritis.

Repetitive trauma to the spine from repetitive strains caused by accidents, surgery, sports injuries, poor posture, or work-related activities are common causes of spinal arthritis.

Treating Osteoarthritis

Patients with osteoarthritis who take an active role in their own treatment can prevent additional joint damage and usually will be able to continue with most of their normal activities.

The key to managing the condition is to get an accurate diagnosis and start early, proactive treatment. Most osteoarthritis treatments are focused on reducing the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and maintaining the joint mobility and flexibility needed to continue with necessary and desired activities.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

  • Swelling and warmth in one or more joints, particularly during weather changes (which may be related to barometric pressure changes and cooling of the air)
  • Localized tenderness when the joint or affected area of the spine is pressed
  • Steady or intermittent pain in a joint, which is often described as an aching type of pain. The pain may be aggravated by motion
  • Loss of flexibility of a joint, such as inability to bend and pick something off the floor
  • A crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone when the joint is moved (called crepitus), particularly notable in the neck
  • An abnormal curve in the spine which may be due to unbalanced muscle spasm
  • A sensation of pinching, tingling, or numbness in a nerve or the spinal cord, which can occur when bone spurs form at the edge of the joints of the spine and irritate the nerve

As with other joint involvement in arthritis, lower back pain is typically most pronounced in the morning and worsens again later in the day. Pain is decreased during the day as the person’s normal movements stir the fluid lubricant of the joints. Lower back pain commonly may radiate (“referred pain”) to the pelvis, buttocks, or thighs and sometimes to the groin. Nerve irritation from a herniated disc or from bone spurs can cause weakness, numbness, tingling, and/or pain in the legs that often radiates to one foot. Arthritis causing spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back can cause exercise or walking-related symptoms in both leg.

Facts about Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (also known as OA) is a common joint disease that most often affects middle-age to elderly people. It is commonly referred to as “wear and tear” of the joints, but we now know that OA is a disease of the entire joint, involving the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and bone.  Although it is more common in older people, it is not really accurate to say that the joints are just “wearing out.” It is characterized by breakdown of the cartilage (the tissue that cushions the ends of the bones between joints), bony changes of the joints, deterioration of tendons and ligaments, and various degrees of inflammation of the joint lining (called the synovium).

This arthritis tends to occur in the hand joints, spine, hips, knees, and toes. The lifetime risk of developing OA of the knee is about 46 percent, and the lifetime risk of developing OA of the hip is 25 percent, according to the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project, a long-term study from the University of North Carolina and sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (often called the CDC) and the National Institutes of Health.

OA is a top cause of disability in older people. The goal of osteoarthritis treatment is to reduce pain and improve function. There is no cure for the disease, but some treatments attempt to slow disease progression.

Tips for living with OA


  • Properly position and support your neck and back while sitting or sleeping.
  • Adjust furniture, such as raising a chair or toilet seat.
  • Avoid repeated motions of the joint, especially frequent bending.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese, which can reduce pain and slow progression of OA.
  • Exercise each day.
  • Use adaptive devices that will help you do daily activities.


To get more information regarding osteoarthritis or arthritis, please visit

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