Osteoarthritis (OA) is by far the most common form of arthritis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 32 million Americans have symptomatic OA, and clinical findings indicate it probably affects most adults to some extent.
OA can cause varying degrees of stiffness and discomfort in any joint but is most often linked to problems in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. It’s frequently related to the normal wear and tear associated with aging but can also occur following an injury.
The focus of our team at Yale Neurosurgery New London, led by acclaimed neurosurgeon Dr. Patrick Doherty, is relieving pain and restoring healthy mobility in your back and neck. We do this by providing the highest quality, least invasive care available for conditions that affect your spinal health, including OA.
OA is a form of arthritis that occurs when the cartilage tissue cushioning the ends of bones within your joints wears away over time. Healthy cartilage enables your joints to move easily without pain or stiffness. As OA progresses, joint motion declines and may eventually become quite painful as bone rubs against bone.
Osteoarthritis also causes inflammation and swelling of the synovial tissue that lines joints as well as deterioration of the ligaments that hold joints together and the tendons that attach muscle to bone. Numerous joints, tendons, and ligaments within your spine make it extremely vulnerable to OA.
Signs of osteoarthritis
Signs and symptoms of OA include:
1. Joint pain
The pain associated with OA often occurs with or shortly after movement of the affected joint. In the case of OA of the spine, the discomfort most often starts in the lower back and may worsen with standing or sitting and improve with lying down. The cervical spine (neck) is the most mobile portion of your spine and is also highly susceptible to degenerative changes associated with OA.
2. Joint stiffness
Joint stiffness caused by OA is typically worse first thing in the morning and after periods of inactivity. As the disease progresses, you may find it takes longer and becomes more painful to loosen or “work the kinks out” of affected joints. OA may also cause some audible popping or snapping in the affected joints as your rise from a seated or prone position.
3. Tenderness surrounding the joint
Unlike pain associated with movement, the joint tenderness associated with OA can occur with even light, fingertip pressure over or near the affected joint. You may also notice swelling and visible redness caused by synovial inflammation.
4. Loss of flexibility
The joint damage associated with OA causes loss of flexibility, and in the case of your spine, can greatly decrease your ability to twist, bend, straighten, or otherwise move your neck and back through their full range of motion.
5. Bone spurs
Bony protrusions (bone spurs) linked to new bone growth near the affected joint occur as your body attempts to repair damage caused by OA. These are visible on X-rays but can sometimes be felt with your fingertips.
Unfortunately, we can’t reverse joint damage related to OA. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help manage your symptoms, slow the progression of the disease, and restore your quality of life.
If you live in or around New London, Connecticut, and need treatment for back pain or neck pain and stiffness, schedule a visit with us at Yale Neurosurgery New London today.