Spinal Arthritis


Spinal arthritis, also known as facet joint arthritis or degenerative joint disease, is a common condition characterised by inflammation and degeneration of the facet joints in the spine. Facet joints are small, paired joints located between adjacent vertebrae, responsible for providing stability and facilitating movement of the spine. Arthritis in these joints can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.


The spine is composed of individual vertebrae stacked on top of each other, separated by intervertebral discs and supported by ligaments and muscles. Facet joints are located at the back of the spine, connecting the vertebrae together and allowing for smooth movement during bending, twisting, and other activities. With spinal arthritis, these joints undergo degenerative changes, including cartilage breakdown, bone spurs (osteophytes) formation, and inflammation, leading to pain and stiffness.


Spinal arthritis can develop as a result of various factors, including:

  • Ageing: Wear and tear on the spine over time can lead to degeneration of the facet joints.
  • Mechanical stress: Repetitive movements, heavy lifting, or poor posture can accelerate joint degeneration.
  • Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing arthritis.
  • Injury or trauma: Previous spinal injuries or trauma can increase the risk of arthritis in the affected area.


Common symptoms of spinal arthritis may include:

  • Persistent or intermittent back pain, typically worsened by movement or prolonged sitting or standing.
  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion in the spine, especially upon waking or after periods of inactivity.
  • Pain that radiates into the buttocks, hips, or thighs, resembling sciatica.
  • Muscle weakness or imbalance due to altered movement patterns and joint dysfunction.

Diagnosis and Tests:

Diagnosis of spinal arthritis involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, imaging studies, and diagnostic tests. X-rays, MRI, or CT scans may reveal characteristic changes in the facet joints, such as joint space narrowing, bone spurs, or inflammation. Blood tests and other laboratory tests may be performed to rule out other potential causes of symptoms.


Treatment options for spinal arthritis may include:

  • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), analgesics, muscle relaxants, and corticosteroid injections may be prescribed to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy: Stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, and posture training can help improve spinal mobility, strengthen supporting muscles, and reduce pain.
  • Heat and cold therapy: Applying heat packs or ice packs to the affected area may provide temporary pain relief and reduce inflammation.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, practising good posture, avoiding prolonged sitting or standing, and using proper body mechanics can help reduce stress on the spine and minimise symptoms.
  • Assistive devices: Using supportive devices such as braces, lumbar pillows, or ergonomic chairs can help alleviate pressure on the spine and improve comfort during daily activities.


Preventive measures for spinal arthritis include:

  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and weight management to support overall joint health.
  • Practising proper body mechanics and ergonomics to reduce the risk of spinal injuries and degeneration.
  • Avoiding or minimising activities that place excessive stress on the spine, such as heavy lifting or repetitive bending.
  • Seeking early medical evaluation and treatment for any new or worsening symptoms of spinal arthritis to prevent complications and promote optimal outcomes.

Outlook / Prognosis:

The outlook for spinal arthritis depends on various factors, including the severity of joint degeneration, the effectiveness of treatment, and individual response to therapy. While spinal arthritis is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, appropriate management can help control symptoms, improve function, and enhance quality of life.

Living With:

Individuals living with spinal arthritis should work closely with healthcare providers to develop a personalised treatment plan that addresses their specific needs and goals. By following recommended therapies, adopting healthy lifestyle habits, and practising self-care strategies, individuals can effectively manage spinal arthritis and maintain optimal spinal health and well-being. Regular monitoring and periodic adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary to ensure continued symptom control and long-term joint preservation.

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