Arthritis literally means joint (“arth”) inflammation (“itis”). This can occur in any area of the body where there are joints. The majority of time, this refers to the joints of the hips or knees. Treatment of arthritis in these areas typically involves anti-inflammatory medications but when these fail and/or give bad side effects such as kidney problems and/or ulcers in the stomach, medical providers turn to steroid injections to help alleviate the pain from the inflammation of the joints.
In general, spinal arthritis develops early on in life with symptom development occurring later on. At times, certain “insults” cause pain to become present earlier than expected i.e. lifting a heavy object at work, car accidents, twisting the wrong way, just to name a few cases. When you hear a pop in your neck or low back, it is these joints that you are hearing. Whiplash conditions typically also involve these joints and if addressed early on and aggressively, the chances that you will become pain free become greatly improved.
The spine is joined together by a series of joints known as facets. These too develop arthritis as we age. Spinal arthritis is the second leading cause of mechanical low back pain and the number one cause of mechanical neck pain. Very similar to other joints in the body that begin to hurt you, steroids can be injected into the irritated joints to give you pain relief. (See cervical, thoracic and lumbar facet injections). The sooner these injections are given to when you start experiencing pain, the better chance you have at gaining significant and prolonged relief. In general, the quicker you address acute pain with the appropriate treatment, the likelihood of chronic pain decreases dramatically.
There are instances when the arthritis has been present for some time and/or the inflammation is so severe that steroid injections do not help at all or do not give you prolonged relief. In other cases, you may be allergic to steroids and/or have a medical condition such as diabetes or uncontrolled high blood pressure that prevents you from having steroid injections. If this is the case, you still have options. There is a way to possibly obtain sustained relief for up to or longer than 6 months. Nerves in your spine carry the pain signal to your inflamed joints in your spine. By numbing the nerves in your spine, this can diagnose if the joints in your back are truly your pain generator (see lumbar/thoracic/cervical medial branch blocks). If you obtain pain relief (ie the area that you feel pain is numb) of at least 50% or more for at least several hours, then you would be a candidate for a more permanent pain relief procedure (see cervical/thoracic/lumbar facet denervation). On average, you may obtain at least 50% pain relief for 6 months or longer. Please keep in mind that spinal arthritis, in general, is not cured by surgery so this may be the best chance of obtaining the most relief without any incisions and without any medications.