Osteoarthritis is a condition that can affect any of the joints in the body. Doctors are now moving away from describing it as a “wear and tear” condition since that gives patients the wrong message about exercise, but it is an ailment that typically (though not exclusively) develops in older people. As the backbone is made up of a series of bones and joints, arthritis can attack there as much as in any other joints.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
The exact mechanism that produces arthritis is not completely understood, but the effect is a gradual reduction in cartilage, the strong, slippery tissue that coats the bones at the joint interface and enables them to slide over each other. The result is that the bones eventually rub against each other, causing pain, loss of mobility, and the stimulation of bony growths which make everything worse.
In the spine, arthritis causes pain and immobility but can have the added effect of putting pressure on the spinal cord, or on the major nerves that emerge from it through the spaces in the vertebrae. This can result in pain, tingling, or weakness in the limbs.
What Are the Treatments?
There is no generally available medical intervention that is able to reverse the effects of arthritis. Stem cell treatment is the most promising line of research, but it is still in its infancy and it may take many years before it is widely offered. Most treatment is geared towards slowing the progress of the disease and towards pain relief.
Pain relief medication is widely prescribed. By its very nature, all medication is effective only so long as the chemicals are active in the body, so the effects will always be short-lived, meaning that treatment has to be repeated indefinitely. The more powerful painkillers are opiates, which are addictive and whose effectiveness tends to require higher doses as time goes on. The main other class of drugs is the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which can, with long-term use, cause digestive problems and have recently been linked with a slightly increased risk of heart disease.
Surgery is a very effective long-term solution for treating large joints but is much more limited where backs are concerned. Vertebrae cannot simply be removed and replaced with synthetic substitutes. In advanced cases, there are surgical procedures which can offer some relief, but it is generally avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Physical therapy is the most important treatment for slowing the progress of the condition. Keeping joints mobile maintains their range of movement. Strengthening the muscles that support the joint is vital to reducing pain and slowing the deterioration of the cartilage. A qualified physical therapist will assess your needs and give you a schedule of exercises. The problem with exercises is that they can be painful, so it makes sense to look for ways to control the pain enough to help us do our exercises.
Alternative Pain Control
Before putting yourself onto any course of treatment it is important that you discuss your condition thoroughly with your doctor. Doctors are experts on the traditional medical and surgical approaches, but will also be able to give an informed view about the alternatives available.
There is much current interest in treatments using cannabinoids. These use the chemicals that are specific to the cannabis group of plants to target particular receptors in the nerve tissues which can have an analgesic effect. Importantly, the particular chemical compounds used are those derived from legally produced industrial hemp, which does not contain the THC compound responsible for the cannabis “high.” Have a look at the website of Imbue Botanicals for more information.
Other non-medical alternatives include:
- Since all pain is ultimately experienced in the brain, meditation has been shown in many cases to be effective in diverting the attention away from the symptoms.
- Herbal remedies. There are naturally occurring substances which many sufferers believe contribute to the control of symptoms.
- TENS machines. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation appears to block the pain signals going to the brain.
- Manipulative therapies such as chiropractic and osteopathy.
- Acupuncture, homeopathy, magnets, and aromatherapy.
A diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the spine is not a sentence of despair. There are several ways to control the symptoms and the majority of sufferers manage to continue to live happy and fruitful lives. Furthermore, current research is throwing up exciting possible treatments that may well offer a hope of greatly reducing the prevalence of the condition in the future.
Amelie Bell practices holistic medicine and loves to help people feel healthier. She also enjoys posting about alternative health on a variety of health and medical websites.