How arthritis affects the back

Do you suffer from aches and pains in your back? It could be a sign of arthritis.

This article is designed to help you understand the complex relationship between arthritis and the spine. Learn how arthritis affects your back, what treatments are available and how you can take control.


Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints, which can lead to pain and stiffness. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects the cartilage between bones in the joints. It is estimated that over 57 million Americans have some form of arthritis and for many, back pain is a major symptom.

This guide will help provide an overview of how arthritis can affect your back and what steps you can take to help prevent or reduce your pain. It will cover topics including: types of arthritis, risk factors for back pain due to arthritis, effects on the spine, treatment options, and lifestyle changes to reduce symptoms. Knowing more about this condition will help you understand why it’s important to seek treatment in order to keep yourself comfortable and mobile.

Explanation of arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for any condition involving the inflammation of a joint in the body, which results in pain, stiffness, and sometimes swelling. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is also known as degenerative joint disease or wear-and-tear arthritis, and it is the most common type of arthritis that affects the back. In OA, the cartilage between two bones gradually wears away over time. This can cause movement to become difficult and painful, as well as bones to rub together painfully instead of being cushioned by the cartilage.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic inflammation of one or more joints in your body – including your back, if it’s affected. When RA affects your spine, it’s usually located in your neck or lower back area. Specifically, RA typically causes inflammation along intervertebral discs from C2 through S1 vertebrae – often leading to nerve pain or spinal stenosis symptoms.

Types of arthritis that affect the back

Arthritis is a general term for conditions that affect the joints, causing them to become inflamed and painful. Back pain is a common symptom of many types of arthritis, but some types of this condition primarily affect the spine. It’s important to understand the different types of arthritis that can cause back pain and learn how they’re treated.

Ankylosing spondylitis: Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is an inflammatory form of arthritis that primarily affects the ligaments and bones in the spine. Over time, it can cause stiffness and immobility between vertebrae in the spine, making it difficult to move or posture correctly. People with AS may also experience fatigue, morning stiffness and pain around their hips, chest and shoulders.

Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when cartilage between bones starts to wear away because of age-related degeneration or injury. OA affects many areas in the body — including weight-bearing joints like your back — resulting in symptoms like deep aching pain, joint instability and limited mobility. Treatment typically involves physical therapy for ergonomic support around certain joints as well as medications to reduce inflammation or manage pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation in multiple joints throughout your body—including your vertebrae—causing long-term damage if left untreated. RA is felt most severely on both sides of your body (symmetrically). Symptoms include tiredness, swelling in wrists/fingers/knees and decreased range of motion from joint swelling or tenderness on either side. Treatment usually involves immune system-modulating medicines called “biologics” as well as physical therapy exercises for strengthening weak muscles associated with RA joint damage.

Anatomy of the Back and Arthritis

The back is comprised of the spinal canal and its 33 vertebrae—24 of which are moveable—as well as the intervertebral discs, the facets, and other tissues that support it. This complex anatomy is responsible for providing mechanical stability, as with everyday movements from walking and sitting. Cushioning between each vertebra helps to reduce friction when these motions occur and is present in the form of intervertebral discs.

The spine’s multi-faceted makeup also contributes to its flexibility, protection for vital nerves, and strength when bearing weight (including the muscles for supporting posture). As it’s primarily composed of cartilage covering joint surfaces, arthritis can cause considerable impact to this intricate network of systems. When these cartilage surfaces are worn down or damaged over time (or as a result of trauma), they cannot functionally support movement, leading to pain through contact of bone-on-bone structures. Additionally, deterioration may lead to a compromise in spinal stability resulting in altered posture or deformity.

Description of the spine

The human spine is one of the most complex structures in the body and performs a wide range of functions. It is made up of 33 bones, or vertebrae, divided into five regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal. Each vertebra articulates with the one above and below it while providing support at their contact point. The bones are held together with ligaments to form an intricate yet strong structure that moves as a single unit when healthy.

The spine also provides protection to several important internal organs such as the spinal cord and spinal nerves. A healthy spine is flexible enough to allow normal movement but still rigid enough to provide necessary stability during everyday activities such as sitting or standing. However, arthritis can reduce this flexibility leading to pain and consequently difficulty in performing some activities.

Joints in the spine

The spine has three different types of joints and any of these can be affected by arthritis. The three joint types in the spine include:

  • Facet joints, which are found along the length of your vertebrae. These are small joints that provide support and flexibility in your back so you can bend, twist, and move.
  • Intervertebral discs, which act as shock absorbers between each level of the spine, helping to provide stability while allowing movement. These discs contain a gelatinous material known as the nucleus pulposus (NP). Over time, arthritis can cause the NP to dry out or tear leading to pain.
  • Sacroiliac (SI) joints which connect the sacrum (back part of your hip bone) with the ilium (part of your pelvis). Arthritis in these SI joints is common and can cause progressive pain and stiffness. Treatment for SI joint arthritis focuses on reducing inflammation in the area as well as restoring mobility and supporting a healthy lifestyle.

III. Causes of Back Pain Related to Arthritis

Back pain associated with arthritis is most commonly related to the spinal joint disease known as spondylosis. This is caused by aging, wear and tear, and increased strain on the discs or vertebrae of your lower back or neck. Spondylosis can cause acute low-back pain possibly accompanied by buttocks pain, numbness in feet and legs, difficulty standing up straight and difficulty walking. It can also provoke a radiating burning sensation along the sciatic nerve.

Other causes of back pain associated with arthritis include:

  • Degenerative disc disease: A process in which discs in the spine lose their cushioning ability due to trauma or injury
  • Osteoarthritis (OA): This type of arthritis occurs when joint cartilage begins to soften and decrease in elasticity leading to stiffness and soreness
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): Inflammation of the synovial membrane which results in swelling around the affected joints
  • Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of space within your spine that can lead to compression of nerves running through it
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction: Pain originating from an abnormality at the joint where your sacrum meets your ilium

Inflammation in the joints of the spine

  1. Inflammation in the joints of the spine: Arthritis, also referred to as spondyloarthritis, is a condition that affects more than 50 million people in the United States and is characterized by inflammation in the joints of the spine. This inflammation occurs when there is an abnormal immune reaction allowing white blood cells to attach themselves to the protective lining of cartilage within the spinal joints. The resulting stiffness and pain can be felt within the back and neck area, leading to difficulty in exercising or performing everyday tasks.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that affects about 1% of american adults over 18 years old. It may cause limited mobility due to stiffness and/or loss in joint structure, which can lead to increased degradation of bone cells in severe cases.

Degenerative changes in the spine

Degenerative changes in the spine, sometimes referred to as arthritis of the spine, is one of the most common causes of low back pain. It is caused by changes in the spinal disks, which can be part of the natural aging process or due to diseases like osteoarthritis, lumbar spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease.

Degenerative disc disease occurs when there is a breakdown of one or more intervertebral discs in your lower back. As these discs degenerate and break down, they lose their ability to cushion and support your spine during activity. This can lead to stiffness and pain in your lower back, as well as nerve pain that can travel down your legs and into your feet.

Symptoms of Back Pain Related to Arthritis

Back pain can manifest itself in a number of ways if you have arthritis. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Discomfort or stiffness: You may feel pressure or soreness throughout your lower back, and this pain may become worse when you are active.
  • Pain while sitting: Sitting for long periods of time may exacerbate your existing back pain caused by arthritis.
  • Leg weakness: Due to nerve irritation caused by arthritic compression, you may experience weakness in one or both of your legs due to sciatic nerve compression or weakness in another part of the leg.
  • Decreased mobility: Arthritis can lead to decreased mobilityby causing joints to swell and form lumps (known as synovial cysts) that limit movement and cause stiffness.
  • Reduced range of motion: Movement becomes more limited as the joint becomes stiffer, because arthritis causes cartilage in the joint to deteriorate over time. As a result, this can lead to reduced flexibility as well as difficulty standing up straight with flattened discs between vertebrae.
  • Altered posture: Your posture has an important impact on how your spine functions, but it is often overlooked when it comes to treating chronic back problems. Arthritis can cause the curvature of the spine changes easily leading any patient at risk for hunching over which then changes the center of gravity preparing more pressure on one specific area sharply increasing localized discomfort and reduced ability to freely move properly befitting from subtle physical activities like walking and even standing still for too long.

Pain in the back or neck

Pain is one of the commonest symptoms associated with arthritis, and it can range from mild to severe. It’s possible to have pain in the back or neck due to arthritis, as these joints are commonly affected. Pain in the back or neck can result from inflammation of the facet joints, which are a type of joint located in the spine that connects each vertebra. This type of pain is referred to as facet joint syndrome or facet arthropathy.

In addition, pain experienced around areas like the hips could be a sign that arthritis is affecting those parts too, and this could require referral for investigation. It’s worth noting that people with conditions such as spondylosis may experience similar types of pain due to degeneration of the discs between spinal vertebrae and/or nerve root compression. Therefore it’s important to have any potential pain related issues checked out properly by a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Stiffness in the affected area

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can both cause extreme stiffness and pain in the back. The affected area(s) may feel hot, tender to the touch, or painful when performing basic tasks like bending or twisting.

Stretching regularly can help with muscle stiffness and can improve mobility. It is important to gradually increase the intensity of any active stretching program that is prescribed by a medical professional so that any further injury is avoided.

Cold compresses on the affected area may also be beneficial in relieving back pain caused by arthritis. Many persons with arthritis find that heat treatments provide more comfort than cold treatments, although this varies from person to person. Heat treatments may include using heating pads or taking warm baths or showers.


Arthritis is an extremely common medical condition, and is frequently a leading cause of chronic pain. There are several different forms that affect the back, all of which can have a significant impact on daily life, physical functioning, and quality of life.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are frequently used as first-line treatments for muscular back pain associated with arthritis, although other treatment options such as steroids, biologic agents, analgesics and physical therapy may be considered based on the underlying form of arthritis involved.

By identifying the type of arthritis a person has, it is possible for medical professionals to offer the best treatments for their condition. With proper diagnosis and treatment plan adherence, individuals with arthritic back pain can manage their symptoms to reduce inflammation and minimize or eliminate their pain levels over time.

Summary of the main points

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. It can affect joints throughout the body, including the spine, and can lead to severe back pain. The two main forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis—each with its own symptoms, causes, treatments, prevention strategies, and outlook.

Osteoarthritis is caused by wear-and-tear on joint tissues that leads to pain and stiffness. In some cases in which excessive pressure has been applied to spinal joints (generally due to misalignment or an injury), bone spurs may form around affected vertebrae. Fortunately, there are several treatments available for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis that can help reduce inflammation and manage pain levels. These treatments include lifestyle changes such as exercise and activity modifications; medications such as NSAIDs; complementary therapies like acupuncture; physical therapy; and corticosteroid injections for more severe cases of inflammation.

It is important for individuals with back pain related to arthritis to be evaluated by a healthcare professional who can identify the underlying cause by taking a comprehensive medical history, performing a physical exam, and ordering appropriate imaging studies if needed. Early diagnosis and treatment intervention may delay disease progression or even prevent it from occurring in some cases. Through careful management of diet, exercise, environmental factors (e.g., ergonomic practices), medications when necessary/appropriate as well as other therapies/strategies outlined above—individuals with back pain associated with arthritis may be able to maintain good quality of life while preventing further decline or progression of disease activity over time.

Importance of seeking medical attention

It is important for those diagnosed with arthritis to consult their health care provider to determine the best course of treatment and to monitor the condition on an ongoing basis. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to preventing the progression of symptoms and continued joint damage.

The health care provider is likely to take a medical history that includes questions about any family history of arthritis, past injuries or illnesses, as well as medical tests that may include x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and blood tests. Depending on the type of arthritis diagnosed, medications may also be prescribed including anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), or biologic agents that inhibit mediators or receptors involved in inflammation.

Other treatments may include physical therapy or orthopedic devices such as heat or cold therapy, braces and splints can be used to reduce pain and improve function. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis surgery may be necessary if conservative treatments have not been effective in providing relief from pain.

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