Arthritis Definition, Causes, Risk Factors and Complications
What is Arthritis of the Spine?
Arthritis of the spine is actually a very common condition that occurs in people aged 65 or older. Arthritis does not directly refer to a single condition (although there is common Arthritis) but refers to a variety of illnesses that relate to the joints and joint pain. There are over 100 different types of Arthritis, each with their own unique symptoms, causes, and treatments. However, the two most common types of Arthritis are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis can also develop in overweight people teens, young adults, and even in children.
Spondylosis is one type of Arthritis of the spine that is also a broad term that refers to the degeneration of the spine or spinal column. The degeneration that is happening in your spine is due to age. With age, the bones in your body, particularly in your spine, can lead to its weakening, resulting in Osteoarthritis of the spine.
Just like Arthritis of the spine, Spondylosis a broad, general term that is used to describe both the pain in your spinal column and the degeneration of the spine itself.
Causes of Arthritis
Just like the broad definition and use of Arthritis, there are many causes of Arthritis, and many actions and situations that could lead to the condition. The most general cause of Arthritis of the spine is the reduction in the normal amount of cartilage in your joints. This lack of cartilage causes pain and stress in your joints because cartilage serves as the shock protector and pressure absorber of your joints. There are many causes of Arthritis, especially with the many specific types of Arthritis around, but the two most common causes are:
- Osteoarthritis Causes (OA)
The most common cause of Arthritis of the spine in the case of OA is the normal wear and tear that happens to the joints in your body over the years. Having a family history of this condition can also be a leading cause of Arthritis, as well as an infection or injury that may speed up the process. Immense pain can be felt when the cartilage is damaged enough that there is a direct bone to bone grinding.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Causes
Rheumatoid Arthritis, another common type of Arthritis can be caused primarily by your immune system attacking tissues of your body. The cause of Arthritis, in this case, is a disease of the synovium or synovial membrane, a soft tissue in your joints. The fluid produced by the synovium nourishes and lubricates the cartilage and joints in your body, and Rheumatoid Arthritis affects the synovium from performing this function.
The cause of Arthritis of the spine (Spondylosis) can be any one of the following factors:
- Degeneration and weakening (much like Osteoarthritis)
- Age: ages 20-50, the onset of Spondylosis can be seen among 80% of people
- Genetic Predisposition
- Previous Injury
What are the Risk Factors that Can Increase the Chance of Causing Arthritis?
The risk factors associated with Arthritis of the spine are numerous, but the most common are:
- Aging – Age is the primary risk factor when it comes to Osteoarthritis as the wear and tear caused by the grinding together of the bones over time. Other types of Arthritis risks such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gout also increase with age.
- Obesity – Obesity, or simply being overweight is also a leading risk factor when it comes to Arthritis of the spine. This is because the excess weight being carried and supported by your bones will put extra stress on your joints. The joints and bones that are most affected by being overweight include the knees, spine, and hips. This is generally what happens when Spondylosis occurs.
- Injuries and Infections – Having any injury directly in contact with your joints or does damage to your bones will most likely develop into Arthritis. Most injuries happen but are not limited to playing sports, as well as vehicular accidents. Contacting an infection through any of these injuries will hasten the process of you having Osteoarthritis.
- Genetics - Genetics, or simply having a family history of having Arthritis of the spine will put you at risk of developing Arthritis. If any of your parents or any of your direct family members like grandparents or siblings have exhibited Arthritis, then you are more than likely going to experience having Arthritis at some point in your life.
Complications that Arise from Arthritis
There are several complications that can arise from having severe Arthritis of the spine. Probably the most common, and a cause for concern is the inability to do daily tasks, these include going to work, doing household activities, etc. Even basic tasks such as standing up and walking become difficult with Arthritis. A severe complication that may arise from Spondylosis is a condition known as Vertebrobasilar Insufficiency, that reduces the blood flow to the brain causing illnesses such as stroke.
Diagnostic Procedures and Symptoms of Arthritis
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis?
The symptoms of Arthritis may vary depending on what type of Arthritis you have, but the majority of these symptoms are more or less the same. The only difference would be what part of your body the symptoms show up in. The most common symptoms of Arthritis include:
- Joint Pain - This is perhaps the most common symptom of Arthritis and the main classification for diagnosing a condition as Arthritis. Joint pain may vary from severe to very mild, and the location of the joint pain will vary depending on what Arthritis you have.
- Stiffness - Along with the pain you experience in your joints there can also be stiffness in your joints and body parts that will ache in pain if forced to move.
- Swelling - the joint that is directly experiencing the pain or the body part that is afflicted will noticeably swell at the onset of Arthritis. The swelling will persist especially when there is a pain in that part of your body.
- Reduced Range of Motion - Severe stiffness is common with Arthritis, often you will not be able to move the joint at all.
- Redness – redness around the joint experiencing arthritis is a common symptom of the condition.
Symptoms Associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis
People experiencing Rheumatoid Arthritis, in addition to the symptoms stated above, may also experience other symptoms of Arthritis such as the loss of appetite and the constant feeling of exhaustion. You may also experience a slight fever, and in rare cases, become anemic. This is because Rheumatoid Arthritis may cause an inflammation due to the malfunctioning of your immune system.
Causes of Spondylosis
Spondylosis, much like Osteoarthritis, but in the spine, is caused by a variety of factors, but perhaps most importantly by years of wear and tear of the spine. This wear and tear include strenuous activities like sports, poor posture, and even constant pressure. Spondylosis mostly affects older people, but it can happen to a person of any age.
The above-associated symptoms of Arthritis may come and go with time, and most of them will most definitely stay the same for years if not treated. Other times, they may progress and get worse. The symptoms of Arthritis can also be either mild, moderate or severe.
What are the Procedures used to Diagnose Arthritis and Spondylosis?
The first thing you have to do when it comes to diagnosing Arthritis should be to go to your physician. This is a good first step if you are not sure where to go to get diagnosed, and your primary care physician can refer you to a specialist. But first, your physician will perform one of the following preliminary diagnostic procedures:
- Physical Exam – the doctor will ask where the pain in your joint emanates from, but a physical exam is necessary as a first step, and it can also be used to diagnose if there are any other joints affected by Arthritis, aside from where you are experiencing the pain.
- Checking your Joints - this will include checking for fluid around your joints, or checking if the joint is warm or red, as this indicates and inflammation
- Checking for the range of motion within your body
- Checking your bodily fluids – the different types of fluids in your body can be analyzed by the physician to accurately specify what type of Arthritis you have. The different types of fluids that are commonly scanned by the physician include fluid in your joints, blood, and your urine.
From there, the diagnosing physician can refer you to a Rheumatologist if the symptoms are severe. The Rheumatologist, or any other specialist, man choose to subject you to various diagnostic procedures to accurately diagnose your condition, such as:
- Ultrasound- the use of Ultrasound is common in diagnosing Arthritis by projecting images of your soft tissues, cartilage, and fluids in your joints. Ultrasound is also commonly used to guide the needle for the removal of the fluids in your joints.
- X-ray – X-ray is ideal for diagnosing Arthritis as it can show the bones in your body and the complications that may plague them such as bone damage, cartilage loss, and bone spurs. They are also ideal for tracking the progress of the condition.
- CT Scan- CT or Computerized Tomography scan can be used to visualize both bones and the soft tissues surrounding it.
- MRI- or Magnetic Resonance Imaging can produce much more detailed images of your bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons than CT scans and x-rays.
Arthritis Treatment Procedures and Aftercare
What are the most common Arthritis Treatments?
The primary focus in most Arthritis treatments is always to reduce the pain you are feeling, and slowly return the movement back to the body parts affected, as well as preventing further damage to the joints in your body.
The Arthritis treatment involved with Arthritis is always conservative in nature, meaning if the joints and bones can be saved and conserved, then the doctor will almost always choose that option. Since the causes and types of Arthritis are pretty diverse, there are a lot of Arthritis treatments, and any one of these treatments or a combination of two or more may be best for you, so it is important to keep trying to determine what’s best.
Medications are most often the first line of defense for Arthritis treatment and are mainly used to suppress the pain you are feeling. Any of these medications or a combination of two or more can be prescribed to you by the doctor or specialist:
- Analgesics – examples: hydrocodone, acetaminophen, tramadol, and narcotics that have oxycodone. Analgesics are perhaps one of the first medications that will be prescribed by your doctor to you as an Arthritis treatment, and is used to treat the pain you are feeling, but will have no effect whatsoever in treating the inflammation.
- NSAIDs – or Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will help control both pain and inflammation in the joints affected, hence making it an effective Arthritis treatment. Some NSAIDs, however, have side effects such as thinning of blood, stomach irritation, and increased risk of stroke or heart attack, so they should always be prescribed and used with caution. Some examples of NSAIDs include Ibuprofen, Naproxen Sodium, and salicylates. Some types of NSAIDs are ideal for Arthritis as they come in cream or gel form, which can then be rubbed directly on the joint affected by Arthritis.
- DMARDs - or Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic drug can suppress your immune system from attacking your joints and is a good Arthritis treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Examples are methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine.
- Corticosteroids – are another type of immune-suppressant drug that can be given to you by the doctor to reduce pain and inflammation as well as stop your immune system from attacking your joints. Corticosteroids are sort of an all in one Arthritis treatment that can be taken orally or injected into the joint feeling the pain.
Surgery for Arthritis
In the case that medications don’t work and the Arthritis is already in its severe stages, the physician or doctor in charge may choose to prescribe surgery as the Arthritis treatment. There are different types of surgery such as:
- Joint repair – Joint repair is for joints that can still be repaired in the form of realignments and smoothing. This is considered as an ideal surgical Arthritis treatment, as it can be done using small incisions over the joint, leaving little traces of the surgery behind.
- Joint fusion – This Arthritis treatment is used for the joints in your wrist, ankle, and fingers, basically the smaller joints of your body. The surgery aims to remove the ends of the two bones locked in a joint. The joint is then placed back together until it heals into one unit. The joint can no longer be moved, but will not experience any more Arthritis related conditions in the future.
- Joint replacement – This is for joints that are severely damaged, such as the most commonly replaced joints like hips and knees. The joint is removed from your body and is replaced with an artificial joint.
- Decompression surgery - This Arthritis treatment is used in spinal Osteoarthritis or Spondylosis, and is done by opening or removing the bony covering of the spinal cord to create more space for the spinal column to move freely. Decompression surgery is classified as Laminectomy when the entire bony lamina of your spinal cord is removed, and Laminotomy when only a small portion is removed.
Therapy is also considered as an ideal treatment for certain types of Arthritis. Physical therapy such as exercises can improve the affected joint’s functionality when it comes to increasing the range of motion and strengthening the surrounding muscles of the joints. Physical therapy is also considered a core component of Arthritis treatment, especially in the aftercare of the condition.
After getting Arthritis treatment, impose changes in your lifestyle that can help you maintain arthritis-free joints, such as:
- diet for weight loss - foods rich in antioxidants, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
- Light exercise to stay fit – swimming is perhaps the ideal type of exercise as it doesn’t put excess pressure on the joints.
- Avoiding certain foods – avoid fried foods, processed foods and high consumption of meat and dairy products.