Osteoarthritis is one of the most prevalent health concerns of people middle aged or older. Arthritis in the spine can take many forms, with some of them being particularly nasty and even life threatening. However, the osteo form of arthritic change is generally considered to be a mild condition and normal for most people to experience to one degree or another as they age.
There is no doubt that arthritis can be painful, but most diagnoses do not logically explain the types of widespread and diverse symptoms often blamed upon OA changes in the vertebral column.
The scope of this article is to provide a more balanced and objective look at the arthritic processes, as they relate to spinal aging.
The osteo form of arthritis is most common in the spine, hips, shoulders and hands, although it can attack virtually anywhere in the body. The condition breaks down the normal protective measures in our joints, specifically the cartilage which surrounds the synovial capsules. These areas contain fluid which helps to lubricate joints and prevent excessive friction.
Arthritis is responsible for decreasing the efficiency and smoothness of the joint, leading to increased bone on bone contact. This process can wear down some areas of bone, leading to thinned out vertebral structures, or might promote bone spur growth, entailing possible painful bone on bone interactions.
While these effects sound serious (and can be in rare instances), most people really do not suffer excessively from osteo type arthritis. In fact, many individuals do not have any pain at all, even with moderate arthritic changes occurring throughout their bodies.
When patients are diagnosed with osteo type arthritis, it is rare for the doctor to tell them how completely normal and virtually universal the condition truly is. Some care providers make every attempt to reassure their patients that all will be ok and that their arthritis is unlikely to cause them serious health problems. However, other caregivers use the opposite tactic. In these cases, the doctor uses the generally innocent arthritis as a scapegoat to blame for present or future symptoms.
This will scare the patient and create the ideal circumstances for a psychosomatic back pain syndrome to begin or escalate through the power of the nocebo effect. This practice is far more common that you might think and is directly tied to the profit driven greed of some less honorable doctors in the back pain industry.
Arthritis comes in so many faces; so it is difficult to know exactly how the condition might progress. I have seen all varieties, even within the osteo subtype. Most patients suffer minor arthritis which may cause some aches or pains occasionally, but certainly nothing to seek back pain treatment over. Typically, these patients can be best cared for with a simple reassurance and some OTC pain medications.
Less likely is the possibility that a patient might develop a particularly problematic arthritic location, which might actually cause central spinal stenosis, foraminal stenosis or facet joint syndrome back pain.
Finally, a tiny number of patients become overwhelmed with advanced arthritic change which can be truly crippling. Luckily, these cases are indeed very rare and the diagnosis is usually quite certain and accurate due to the obvious anatomical changes which occur.
Make sure to think positive if you are diagnosed with typical arthritis and consider that your condition is not likely to threaten your health now or in the distant future. If you are the unfortunate exception to the rule, then be proactive in your search for the best treatments and always remember that there is no cure for OA. The best that can hope to be achieved is successful and lasting symptomatic relief.