Is My Back Pain from Arthritis?

Oct 11, 2019 | Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Treatments

There are Many Causes of Back Pain, but How Can You Tell if Arthritis is the Culprit? 

Back pain is a normal part of life. In fact, 80 to 90% of the adult population will have lower back pain at some point in their lives. But besides the usual suspects like herniated discs and injuries, how do you know if your back pain is a result of something else, specifically arthritis?

You might not know that arthritis isn’t one single disease. There are over 100 different forms of arthritis, from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis to fibromyalgia and even gout. In fact, arthritis is nearly just as common as lower back pain and it affects more than 50 million American adults and hundreds of thousands of children.

Since arthritis is technically classified as a condition that impacts the joints, doesn’t that include the joints in your spine? It does! Since it can be difficult to tell whether your back pain is from arthritis or something else, we want to discuss a few common forms of arthritis that could potentially hurt your spine, including their symptoms.


3 Types of Arthritis that Can Cause Back Pain

Nearly every form of arthritis causes pain, stiffness, and inflammation. This means that, if it can make the more commonly affected joints in your knees, ankles or hands hurt, it can also encroach on the spine. The inflammatory forms of arthritis that attack the spine – also referred to as spondyloarthropathies – most often focus their efforts on the lower back because that’s where you carry more of your weight. Since other forms such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can impact the spine, we want to address the three types of arthritis that can create pain in your back.


1. Psoriatic arthritis

While you may think of psoriasis as a skin condition, it’s actually an inflammatory autoimmune disease that materializes in the form of dry, itchy patches on the skin. Psoriatic arthritis affects approximately 30% of psoriasis patients. The main difference is that with psoriasis, the inflammation distresses the skin, while with psoriatic arthritis, the inflammation upsets the joints with stiffness, swelling and pain.

About half of everyone who suffers from psoriatic arthritis will experience axial arthritis, which is the “spine” part of the disease. If you have this particular form of arthritis, it impacts the joints of the lower spine, also called the sacroiliac joints, which support the entire weight of your upper body.

Mostly, psoriatic arthritis causes stiffness and inflammation, but in more severe cases, it can cause your spine vertebrae to fuse and significantly limit range of motion. However, this fusion is not as severe as ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that specifically attacks the spine joints.


2. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Unlike psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis isn’t considered a spondyloarthropathy (arthritis of the spine). So, if you do experience back pain without pain in the joints of your hands, knees or feet, rheumatoid arthritis is most likely not the source of your back pain.

However, rheumatoid arthritis can definitely impact the facet joints in your spine. Plus, since it’s a systemic, inflammatory disease, it can cause swelling and pain around joints all over the body. Hence, the inflammation may enable the facet joints to destruct, which can cause vertebra in the upper spinal column to “slip” and slide forward, a phenomenon called spondylolisthesis. This results in extra pressure put on the spinal cord and nerves.


3. Osteoarthritis

Both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis result in inflammation. The difference is that, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage lining your joint facets. Additionally, the discs in your spine may narrow from loss of water, which only further shrinks the gap between the vertebra.

The results can be quite painful. Because the joints have thinned and made the spine unstable, your body responds by creating bone spurs to stabilize your back. However, this autoimmune response does more harm than good. In an attempt to restore stability, bone spurs stiffen your spine, which reduces range of motion. Plus, as your body continues to develop these bone spurs, they can put pressure on nerves and even cause numbness in extremities including the hands, arms, feet and legs. This narrowing of the spinal canal, which contains nerve roots, is called spinal stenosis.


If It’s Not Arthritis, What is Causing My Back Pain? 

If you’re experiencing back pain, you most likely don’t need to worry about whether it’s the osteoarthritis you know you have or a mysterious case of ankylosing spondylitis. In other words, we do not advocate that you self-diagnose. As we mentioned above, back pain is a normal part of life with many causes and symptoms. But, if you have been diagnosed with some form of osteoarthritis and your pain has become severe, you should take action and schedule a consultation with one of our physicians today.

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