Among musculoskeletal conditions, arthritis is the most frequently diagnosed by physicians specializing in spinal and back conditions. While arthritis may develop at any age, studies suggest that about 90% of Americans over the age of 55 are afflicted. Currently 45 million outpatient visits and almost 1 million hospitalizations are related to arthritis.
An Overview of Arthritis
Although arthritis literally means inflammation of the joints, it actually includes over 100 conditions that affect joints, connective tissue, and related soft tissue. Cartilage, a connective tissue, cushions bones and allows easy movement. With arthritis this cartilage erodes over time causing joints to rub together and results in inflammation, swelling, and pain. A bone spur (growth) may then form along the joints’ edges and the bones often become hard and firm, a condition known as sclerosis, due to bone spur formation.
While arthritis attacks the whole body, it usually targets the joints, back, and spine. Symptoms generally include joint swelling, stiffness, tenderness, and pain, especially in the body’s soft tissues, making arthritis the leading cause of physical disability. Patients often turn to chronic pain treatment programs such as those offered by the medical professionals at West Michigan Spine Center.
Understanding Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Generally, there are two types of arthritis. The first type is osteoarthritis. This results from the normal aging process as well as trauma and injuries. It usually appears in the knee, hip, or other weight-bearing joints. When the spine is targeted, it’s known as spinal osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis may also develop in joints used for work or sports and those joints previously damaged and/or fractured.
The second type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, develops as a result of inflammation in joint linings. This disease affects 1% of the world’s population. Although the risk for rheumatoid arthritis decreases with age, it is found to affect women three times more than men. While rheumatoid arthritis may affect the entire body, it primarily develops in the spine and joints resulting in inflammation and tissue damage.
Typically, the immune system defends the body from attackers by producing chemical substances to attack and destroy joint surfaces. This can lead to joint swelling, pain, and stiffness even in inactive joints. Rheumatoid arthritis may result in long-lasting or permanent disability.