Most people take for granted that their knee and hip joints may become arthritic with age. As this occurs, these joints become “achy” at times, especially in the morning or after excessive activity. For an unfortunate few, this arthritic condition may become so painful as to require knee or hip replacements. However, few people realize that the spine is also made up of joints, and that arthritis in the spine is often the source of their neck or back pain.
Dr. Raab is board-certified neurosurgeon at the Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine, and Orthopedics, and has served as President of the New Jersey Neurosurgery Society. A recognized leader in treating spine-related disease, he recently spoke with NJ Advance media about the age-old question of “Why does my back hurt so much?”
How common is arthritis in the spine?
Exceedingly common. In fact, it is universal. Everybody gets it eventually, al- though some people get it earlier in life than others. There are 76 joints in the human spine, including the discs, facets, and sacroiliac joints. By comparison, there are only 2 knee joints and 2 hip joints. Any of these joints can become arthritic.
What exactly is arthritis?
Arthritis is just another way of saying wear and tear, which we accumulate daily as go about our lives. Every step we take, every move we make, takes a toll our joints. When we are young, we heal this minor wear and tear quickly, leaving our joints smooth, cushioned by thick cartilage, well lubricated, and perfectly functioning without pain. But as we age, we can no longer heal daily wear and tear at the same rate that we accumulate it. The result? Irregular joint surfaces at first, which you might notice as “clicking” during certain movements. Later, these irregular joint surfaces may further erode, leaving bone grinding on bone. Inflammation and bone spurs may result. This is arthritis, and it can be painful.
Does that mean everybody will get disabling neck or back pain?
Not at all. Even though wear and tear cannot be reversed, there are many things you can do to slow down the process to a minimum, or at least minimize the pain and discomfort caused by wear and tear.
What is Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine, and Orthopedics’s approach to helping patients with arthritic spine pain?
Our basic philosophy is to help patients help themselves. Working collaboratively, CNSO’s award-winning neurosurgeons, physiatrists, pain management physicians, and physical therapists practice in unison to provide patients with the proper education and motivation to heal themselves.
What can you offer patients with more serious conditions?
Only neurosurgeons have the expertise to evaluate and treat all aspects of the spine. No other specialty has the training to do so. For those patients who come to us with disabling pain syndromes or neurological deficits caused by structural breakdown in the spine, we offer the most advanced interventional pain management and surgical techniques available. These include minimally invasive same day procedures, complex deformity correction, stabilization surgeries, and tumor resections.