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Treating Spinal Arthritis in New Jersey

Patient with arthritis of the spine experiencing back painSpinal arthritis, or arthritis of the spine, called spondylosis, occurs when joints in the spine become inflamed. Certain types of spinal arthritis are common, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Regardless of the type, spondylosis can have a significant impact on a patient’s life, including acute and chronic pain, caused by its laying down of poorly formed bone called, bone spurs, and the resultant narrowing of spinal canals or foramina through which neurological tissue passes.

At Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, the team of board-certified neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists provides comprehensive care for arthritis of the spine along with numerous other painful conditions. Surgical and non-surgical treatment is available for patients at locations across northern New Jersey.

What Are the Types of Spinal Arthritis?

Arthritis of the spine can originate in any joint, including the neck, upper back, or lower back. There are several types of spinal arthritis, including:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA): The most common type, OA of the spine happens when the cartilage between the facet joints, positioned between and behind vertebrae, breaks down, causing inflammation and pain.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): This autoimmune disorder impacts the lining of the joints (synovium) which destroys cartilage. Patients with RA of the spine most commonly are affected by RA in the neck.
  • Sacroiliitis: The sacroiliac joint sits between the lower spine and pelvis and provides cushioning for the body and legs. Sacroiliitis occurs when these joints become inflamed, causing pain. This pain is felt especially during physical activity.
  • Spondyloarthritis: Otherwise known as spondylosis, refers to several inflammatory diseases that impact the joints and the areas where the ligaments and tendons connect to the bones.
  • Juvenile spondyloarthritis: Rare condition of arthritis formation in the spine of a child.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: This is an autoimmune disease, similar to rheumatoid arthritis, but differs by its typical asymmetrical pattern of joint involvement and it typically affects the lower spine.
  • Enteropathic arthritis: Arthritis of the spine as well as other joints secondary to inflammatory bowel disease. May be linked to causing ankylosing spondylitis.

Who Is at Risk for Spinal Arthritis?

Anyone can experience arthritis of the spine, but certain factors put patients at greater risk for the condition. Risk factors for spinal arthritis include:

  • Age: Arthritis of the spine typically affects adults over 40.
  • Obesity: Being obese causes excessive joint stress, which can heighten risk.
  • Gender: Arthritis affects more women than men.
  • Family history: A family history of joint deformity or defective cartilage increases risk.
  • Spinal injury: An injury or traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident can accelerate deterioration.
  • Lifestyle: Repetitive movements on the job, or overuse from physical activity, can compound risk.

What Causes Spinal Arthritis?

With osteoarthritis, the primary cause is wear and tear on the joints. Causes for other types of spinal arthritis remain unknown but there appears to be a genetic and an immunologic component. For this reason, physicians often look at risk factors to help diagnose patients and ensure they are prescribed the appropriate treatment.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Arthritis?

Symptoms of arthritis in the spine a.k.a spondylosis, manifest differently depending on the type of arthritis, where it develops, and the patient’s health. Common signs of spinal arthritis include:

  • Pain when bending or twisting the back
  • Stabbing lower back pain on one or both sides
  • Pain and numbness in extremities
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling
  • Stiffness, swelling, and tenderness in specific areas of the back
  • Grinding sensations when moving the back
  • Headaches (related to cervical arthritis)

These signs may overlap with the symptoms of some degenerative spine conditions. Regardless of the cause, patients should contact their physician as soon as they notice these symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can help patients realize better outcomes, but neglecting to seek care can lead to worsening symptoms and limited treatment options.

Can Spinal Arthritis Lead to Other Spine Problems?

Leading an active lifestyle can prevent the progression of arthritis because increasing amounts of arthritis can lead to other conditions of the spine. Early treatment helps prevent the further cascade of comorbidities. Common conditions caused by arthritis include:

  • Bone spurs: These bone overgrowths push into joints and nerves, causing wear and tear on cartilage and leading to inflammation of the affected bone.
  • Degenerative disc disease: Discs are cartilage that cushions spinal vertebrae. With age, these discs experience wear and tear, leaving vertebral bones to press against each other and leading to painful symptoms.
  • Kyphosis: Kyphosis refers to excessive spinal curvature. The most notable symptom is the appearance of being hunched over.
  • Radiculopathy: Radiculopathy happens when the symptoms of a pinched nerve in the back or neck travel to other areas of the body, such as the extremities.
  • Spinal stenosis: A traumatic event or degeneration from arthritis can cause spinal stenosis, the narrowing of a part of the spinal canal.
  • Spondylolisthesis: If joints and ligaments weaken or become damaged, bones in the vertebrae can become misaligned. The result is pain in the neck or lower back, as well as narrowing that causes radiculopathy.
  • Bone fractures: Fractures in the spine have a destabilizing effect. They put pressure on the spinal cord and nearby nerves. Certain types of fractures are referred to as spondylolysis. In addition to trauma, fractures can be caused by osteoporosis.

At CNSO, our exercise and rehabilitation specialists, neurosurgeons, spine surgeons, pain management doctors, and physical therapists, have expertise in diagnosing and treating arthritis of the spine and the various sequela of related spine conditions, ensuring patients can access comprehensive care within one center.

How Is Spinal Arthritis Diagnosed?

If a physician believes their patients may have spondylosis, they will refer them to a spine specialist for an accurate diagnosis, such as a neurosurgeon, orthopedic spine surgeon, or pain management specialist. The specialist asks the patient about their symptoms and their medical history before conducting a physical examination. During the exam, the physician places the patient in certain orientations and will ask the patient to move in certain positions which will help them locate the source of the pain.

Imaging techniques and other tests can help confirm a diagnosis. These include:

  • Blood tests: Blood work will help confirm rheumatoid arthritis versus other diseases. Tests administered for arthritis of the spine detect RA antibodies and genetic markers for the condition.
  • Spinal X-rays: These diagnostic images allow doctors to visualize the location of any bone damage, pinpointing the arthritic joint(s).
  • Spinal CT scan or MRI: These imaging modalities offer detailed images of spinal structures, such as vertebrae, spinal cord, and nerves, to help identify problem areas and exclude other causes.
  • Myelogram: Used to distinguish spinal canal issues, myelography is performed through either a CT scan or a special x-ray called fluoroscopy. It involves injecting contrast dye into the spinal canal to make the spinal discs appear more pronounced in imaging.

Can Spinal Arthritis Be Treated Without Surgery?

After a confirmed diagnosis, the spine specialist will begin discussing treatment options with the patient. In many cases, conservative treatments can relieve symptoms of spinal arthritis, and these solutions have minimal downtime. For these reasons, CNSO emphasizes non-surgical treatment when possible. The following are conservative treatments for arthritis of the spine:

  • Medications: Several medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and muscle relaxers, can help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis
  • Hot or cold compresses: Applying heat and cold to the back may help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Steroid injections: Epidural steroid injections and transforaminal injections involve directly administering medicine near the affected area of the nerves or spinal cord via a small needle. These pain management procedures help reduce pain caused by inflammation and should only be performed by a pain management doctor or spine surgeon.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can decrease pain while increasing strength and function. The physical therapists at CNSO use several techniques to help patients maintain a healthy lifestyle after diagnosis.
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation: Combining physical therapy with other manual techniques, such as stretching and guided exercise, rehabilitation medicine empowers the restoration of functional ability for patients with spinal arthritis.

In some cases, conservative treatment may be all that is needed to help patients find relief. In others, it may delay the need for surgical intervention. These conservative treatments also may be administered after surgery, as not all pain will go away following a procedure.

What Surgical Treatments Are Used to Treat Spinal Arthritis?

If arthritis of the spine causes debilitating symptoms not treatable through conservative measures, specialists will recommend spine surgery as the next course of action. The spine surgeons at CNSO perform the following procedures for treating spinal arthritis:

  • Spinal decompression: During spinal decompression surgery, the orthopedic spine surgeon removes the bone putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerves while ensuring vertebral integrity.
  • Discectomy: Also called microdiscectomy, this procedure involves removing a portion of a herniated disc to alleviate pressure on nearby nerves and address the symptoms it causes. CNSO performs minimally invasive and open microdiscectomy procedures.
  • Foraminotomy: The surgeon removes a small segment of the bone around a narrowed foramina (small openings between each vertebra) to provide relief from pinched nerves.
  • Laminectomy: With a laminectomy, the surgeon removes portions of laminae (bony arches on either side of the spine) to relieve pressure from the spinal cord and surrounding nerves
  • Cervical disc replacement: Advancements in artificial joint replacement have enabled surgeons to perform cervical disc replacements to improve functionality and reduce pain.
  • Spinal fusion surgery: Spinal fusion entails restoring damaged and unstable spinal joints and vertebral bone to align and stabilize the spine.

Neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons take the utmost precaution with spine and back surgery to minimize patients’ risk and help them achieve better outcomes. Still, all surgeries carry some risk for complications. The following are some common surgical complications:

  • Scarring
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Bleeding and blood clots
  • Infection
  • Complications related to general anesthesia

Recovering From Spinal Surgery

Following the procedure and a period of observation by the surgical team, the patient can go home and begin recovery. The surgeon will provide instructions for a smooth recovery and follow-up appointments will be scheduled. Recovery time differs depending on the type of surgery, the extent of the arthritis, and the patient’s health. It may take several weeks to several months to recover fully.

The neurosurgeon or orthopedic spine surgeon will advise patients regarding when they can safely resume normal physical activity. Recovery also may encompass some lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Weight control: Altering diet to eat more nutritiously can facilitate a smoother recovery and lower the risk for further instances of spinal arthritis.
  • Exercise: Certified physical therapists and rehabilitation specialists deliver guided exercises to restore mobility and function.

Will Rehabilitation Involve Therapy?

Physical therapy and massage therapy help patients regain functionality after surgery. Exercise is vital to experiencing a better recovery. The following are some exercise therapies that may help after surgery:

  • Physical therapy exercises to help with overall functionality and improve quality of life
  • Range of motion exercises to regain mobility and flexibility
  • Strengthening exercises to enhance muscle strength around spinal joints
  • Pain management techniques to relieve discomfort after spine surgery

Common Follow-Up Care after Spinal Arthritis Treatment

Follow-up appointments are necessary for surgeons to assess a patient’s progress with recovery, as well as detect any post-surgical complications. These visits may include:

  • Regular check-ups for the patient to express how their recovery is progressing and examine the affected area
  • X-rays to view the surgical site in any hardware was necessary
  • Creation of a rehabilitation plan or assessment of the existing plan to determine whether modifications are needed

Why Choose CNSO for Spinal Arthritis Care?

For personalized care from knowledgeable and compassionate physicians, choose CNSO. As New Jersey’s most comprehensive center for surgical and non-surgical treatment of brain, spine, and nerve conditions, the team emphasizes conservative care, taking the time to consider if a medically proven, evidence-based, and non-invasive technique would be the best treatment for individual patients.

The group of experts at CNSO includes award-winning neurosurgeons, spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists. Patients across New Jersey can find care at multiple convenient locations in Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Morris, and Hudson counties.

Trust CNSO for Comprehensive Spinal Care

Regardless of type, spine arthritis causes symptoms that significantly limit a patient’s ability and can diminish their quality of life. With comprehensive, conservative, and personalized care from the skilled team at CNSO, patients throughout northern New Jersey gain peace of mind about the treatment of spinal arthritis and a host of other spinal conditions. Contact CNSO today to schedule an appointment.

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In order to provide an accurate diagnosis with the most effective treatment option for “back problems” and brain tumors, CNSO is led by neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons. Under the care of our award-winning neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons, Northern NJ patients can have the confidence that their medical condition will be handled with consideration for their comfort and long-term well-being as well as technical excellence.

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