Is Arthritis Affecting Your Spine?

The term arthritis is often associated with the knees, hips, and fingers. Yet, the spine can also suffer from this chronic condition. Arthritis is the gradual wear and tear of cartilage and bone, a condition that affects 1 in 5 American adults. There are several forms of arthritis, with osteoarthritis being the most common. Spinal arthritis can happen anywhere along the spine and, in some severe cases, require laminectomy.

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Impacting your spine's mechanics

The spine consists of several bones called vertebrae. Between each bone are fibrous discs that help with shock absorption. For the spine to move slightly, facet joints, ligaments, and tendons connect the top and bottom vertebrae. Osteoarthritis, and the resulting inflammation, damages the facet joints and cartilage. The result is pain, stiffness, numbness, and weakness, especially when moving. If left untreated, spinal arthritis can lead to other conditions like degenerative discs, spinal stenosis, and even fractures.

Try conservative treatments first

Despite the life-changing symptoms of arthritis, there are some treatment options. First, a spinal surgeon will confirm the issue using x-rays and other imaging methods. From there, non-surgical treatment is the next step. Treatments include pain medication, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and epidural injections. These methods are often helpful when done consistently, giving patients prolonged relief.

It's time for surgery

Sometimes, arthritis can develop into spinal stenosis. If this happens, non-surgical treatment may not be enough to manage the pain and discomfort. Decompression surgery is an umbrella term for several procedures to provide spinal canal space. A laminectomy is the most common form of decompression surgery which can also help with arthritis. Laminectomy removes the entire lamina, a bony plate that protects the spine.

Let's decompress

A laminectomy happens under minimally invasive means, small incisions to access the spine. The surgery can happen at any place along the spine. However, spinal arthritis is common in the lower back and neck. Small tools will remove the lamina, facet joint, or bone spurs, causing pain. In some cases, the surgeon may fuse the adjacent vertebrae. Spinal fusions use a combination of bone grafts, metal plates, and screws to keep the bones in place. Most patients can leave the hospital the same day thanks to minimally invasive surgery.

Are you a candidate for a laminectomy?

Despite the effectiveness of spinal surgery, most surgeons will delay surgery unless absolutely necessary. However, if consistent non-surgical treatment like medication and physical therapy fails, then surgery may help. Other reasons someone may be a candidate for surgery include weakness and numbness in the leg, difficulty standing or walking, reduced bladder control and severe damage that appears on imaging tests that can reduce the quality of life. While decompression surgery can help, there are some risks involved. Make sure to raise any concerns before deciding on surgery.

Surgery may be the answer

Decompression surgery can reduce the pain and discomfort of conditions caused by arthritis. Arthritis has no cure, but surgery can improve the quality of life. The pain subsides significantly, and managing symptoms becomes easier. Spinal surgery has a high success and satisfaction rate, particularly for those who are viable candidates. With minimally invasive techniques, patients could recover quickly and get back to business.

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