Arthritis is for senior citizens, or so most young people think. Young people don’t have arthritis back pain. As my dear grandmother once told me, “You’re too young to have a back.”
The truth is that arthritis can cause back pain long before retirement age. Arthritis has many forms – more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions are classified as types of arthritis. Of them, osteoarthritis may be the only one that is most likely to wait for the golden years to issue forth in back pain.
Arthritis is inflammation of any joint in the body. It affects not only the joints themselves, but also the tissue that surround the joints, and other connective tissue. The symptoms of arthritis are usually pain and stiffness in and around the joint. You may have arthritis for years, however, before you begin to notice the pain.
Spinal arthritis has three main types. A brief description of each follows.
1. Ankolyzing Spondylitis: This chronic form of arthritis affects the spine and the sacroiliac joint where the spine meets the pelvis. It can also cause back pain in shoulders and hips. Severe cases of ankolyzing spondylitis may result in bone spurs being formed on the vertebrae. Bone spurs can fuse vertebrae together. When this occurs, the spine becomes rigid. The back pain sufferer loses a great deal of mobility. That is, he or she cannot move freely. Not reserved for the elderly, the back pain of ankolyzing spondylitis is most often first diagnosed in young men, usually younger than 35 years of age.
2. Osteoarthritis: This is the most common form of arthritis. The back pain of osteoarthritis usually strikes after the age of 40. From that age upward, osteoarthritis becomes increasingly common. Osteoarthritis is a disease in which the cartilage that cushions bones’ end at the joints wears away. The bones no longer have the protection they had. As they rub together, inflammation and back pain result, accompanied by stiffness. Bone spurs may also form. These bone spurs can break off and float around within the joint. This causes more damage and back pain. Over time, the joint may become misshapen. People with osteoarthritis of the spine have back pain in spinal joints and limited movement.
3. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Here is a type of arthritis that can strike the spine, causing back pain, at any age. Rheumatoid arthritis begins when the body’s immune system attacks the synovial membrane – the tissue that lines joints. This attack occurs when the body sends white blood cells to synovium. The thin synovium responds by becoming thick. This thickening of tissue causes the joint to become swollen and puffy to the touch. Back pain and inflammation result. An inflamed synovium leads to the wearing away of cartilage and bone in the joint. Gradually, other tissues such as muscles, ligaments, and tendons weaken. The joint has less support, causing further back pain. Rheumatoid arthritis causes not only back pain, but also fatigue and fevers. It usually begins in middle age, and is more common in women than in men.
Physicians normally treat arthritis with medication. A back pain reliever or anti-inflammatory medication is the first line of treatment. OTC internal back pain relievers include aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. External back pain relievers include creams such as Zostrix, Icy Hot, and Ben Gay. More severe arthritis back pain may be treated with prescription medication. Exercises should be used to increase range of motion.
CAUTION: The information given here is for educational purposes only. Please seek a physician’s advice for any chronic back pain.