Expert Blog

Dennis Crandall, MD.

Understanding and Managing Spinal Arthritis

Pink shirt visible spine

If everyday twisting, bending, or stooping motions have become a painful ordeal, you may have developed a case of spinal arthritis. Many varieties of spinal arthritis plague exist, any of which can leave you suffering from chronic pain, inflammation, and stiffness.

The more clearly you understand how arthritis affects the spine, what kind of arthritis you have, and how different treatment options can bring symptoms under control, the more easily and completely you can resume your work, hobbies, and household activities. Discover some key points to keep in mind.


Arthritis simply refers to joint pain and inflammation, which means that the term covers an extraordinarily wide range of ground, including at least 100 different medical conditions. Arthritis afflicts an estimated 50 million adults, but children can and do get arthritis as well.

The most common type of spinal arthritis, osteoarthritis, can develop in the facet joints that connect and articulate your vertebrae, a condition known as facet joint syndrome. As in other forms of osteoarthritis, facet joint syndrome can occur naturally as the protective cartilage within the joints wears down.

Changes in your vertebral discs can cause or accelerate facet joint syndrome. For instance, age-related water loss inside the discs may allow the discs to flatten instead of maintaining a constant space between vertebrae. This change places the facet joints under unnatural stress, leading to irritating and deterioration.

Other kinds of arthritis can also produce spinal pain and stiffness. In rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, autoimmune reactions can inflame and damage the joints. A form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis attacks the joints of the lower spinal column, sometimes causing bones to fuse together.


The symptoms of spinal arthritis can vary somewhat depending on what type of arthritis you have. Since spinal osteoarthritis involves mechanical dysfunction, it typically produces pain whenever you flex the affected facet joints, becoming less noticeable when you stand or sit still.

Rheumatoid spinal arthritis may not bother you in a more constant pattern, causing you pain whether you flex your spine or not. Ankylosing spondylitis tends to hurt more after a long period of inactivity, with the pain centered in your lower back and hips.


Many cases of spinal arthritis respond to conservative care approaches. Your physician may recommend different treatment strategies depending on the type and severity of your arthritis. For instance, chiropractic adjustment often eases osteoarthritis symptoms by relieving joint strain, but it poses certain risks for rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Over-the-counter medication can reduce inflammatory pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, if only for a few hours at a time. Popular examples include non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. Ask your doctor about potential risks or interactions before taking these drugs.

Injections offer the next level of pharmaceutical relief for facet joint arthritis. Your doctor can inject a steroid called cortisone, along with a local anesthetic, into an inflamed facet joint to bring the inflammation down for extended periods.

Exercise can help you manage osteoarthritis of the spine. A combination of stretches and strengthening exercises can improve your degree of pain-free spinal mobility while also lending your spine greater muscular support. Exercise and dietary changes can also help you lose weight and take stress off of your spinal joints.


Severe cases of spinal arthritis may call for surgical intervention. The fusion of two or more vertebrae can sometimes relieve bone-on-bone friction after conservative techniques have failed. If bony overgrowth in the spinal column also pinches your nerves, a laminectomy can relieve the nerve impingement.

If you have a painful problem such as spinal arthritis, Sonoran Spine has the skills, tools, and quality of care you need. Contact us today to let us know how we can help you.