We often say that things can be a real “pain in the neck.” While we often refer to the muscle tightness of stress, more serious conditions can cause pain in your cervical vertebra. A degenerative condition known as facet arthropathy can cause pain in the neck and throughout the spine. Similar to rheumatoid arthritis, this condition is marked by stiffness and pain, but instead of affecting the major joints in the limbs, arthropathy affects the joints of the neck and spine.
What Causes Arthropathy?
Unlike many other medical diagnoses, there is no specific singular cause of arthropathy. Some varieties, such as cervical arthropathy, have yet to be linked to any specific cause. Lumbar arthropathy, on the other hand, has been linked to risk factors such as being overweight, accidents or sports injuries, and lifting heavy objects.
Research has linked obesity to increased chronic inflammation throughout the body. We now understand that your body’s inflammatory response has a negative effect on your joints, causing erosions in the tissues that lead to joint pain and joint disease commonly known as arthritis. While arthropathy is different from arthritis, carrying extra body weight will place additional wear and tear on your joints, especially those of the lower limbs and low back. As such, carrying additional body weight is sometimes considered a risk factor for arthropathy, even though there is no direct causal link between the two.
Is Arthropathy the Same as Arthritis?
When people refer to arthritis, they usually mean rheumatoid arthritis. This condition, which has been linked to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders, affects joints such as those of the fingers is only one form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is another variation of joint degeneration, which is often marked by the wearing away of tissues that pad the bones of your skeleton. Osteoarthritis can be caused by a host of factors including damage or injury to the joints, repeated heavy lifting, or even chronic obesity.
How is Facet Arthropathy Diagnosed?
Finding the source of your back pain can be a daunting task. For individuals who are overweight, have bad posture, or have a history of stress and injury to their joints, there can be many different causes of back pain.
Imaging tests are usually the most definitive ways to diagnose facet arthropathy. X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can all be used to help your doctor or healthcare provider get an understanding of what is going on in your spine. Imaging can help pinpoint the areas where cartilage has worn away, and can help rule out other conditions such as synovial cysts, which are still painful, but come from a different origin.
Treating Facet Arthropathy
There is no cure for facet arthropathy once it has developed. For this reason, all treatment options for arthropathy are designed to help slow the progress of this degenerative condition or to mitigate the pain it causes.
For most people treatment for arthropathy begins before they ever have a diagnosis. This usually takes the form of over-the-counter medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to temporarily reduce inflammation and provide relief from pain. These drugs are not meant to be a long-term solution, though, as prolonged use can damage the lining of your stomach and lead to peptic ulcers.
Since there is nothing that can be done to replace lost cartilage, the pain signals from damaged joints won’t stop coming either. For some people, radiofrequency ablation can bring relief. In this treatment, targeted radio waves are used to deaden the nerves that would be sending unhelpful pain signals to your brain.
For some patients suffering from the low back pain of lumbar facet arthropathy, an orthopedic spine surgery known as spinal fusion can sometimes be an option. In this procedure, the joints of the spine in the low back are fused together to prevent movement and the pain it causes. This can limit a patient’s range of motion, but it can provide necessary pain relief to allow people to begin moving and exercising again.
The saying "motion is lotion" certainly applies to treating arthropathy, though that may seem counterintuitive at first. Motion can be a source of pain for people suffering from degeneration of their facet joints, but keeping active can help prevent symptoms from progressing further in several ways.
The first and most important way that movement can help is by helping control your weight, especially as you age. More than half of Americans are now considered overweight, and many of us will find that unwanted pounds tend to pile on later in life. In addition to predisposing you to diseases like type 2 diabetes, excess body weight can severely exaggerate the effects of osteoarthritis in joints throughout the body including those prone to facet arthropathy.
Living with Back Pain
If you are suffering from lower back pain, it is important to know that you are not condemned to a life of agony. There are many treatments and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate your pain.
A healthy diet and regular exercise are two of the most powerful ways to ensure you are doing the best you can for your body. This doesn’t mean you should go out and start lifting heavy weights at the gym to help solve your back pain. It is important that you not start a new program of physical activity without consulting your physician. If you are older and have not been active, beginning with a course of directed activity in physical therapy can help to rebuild strength and mobility that may help alleviate some of the pain.
With any chronic pain, it is important to properly identify the cause. Trying to treat any condition of the spine should be done with care, as damage to your spinal cord could result in debilitating and life-altering injury. Pain in the back and neck can arise from many different causes, and it is important to be sure you are seeking appropriate treatment.
At TrustCare, we know that getting the right diagnosis means getting the conversation started. Our many walk-in clinic locations are open seven days a week to ensure you have the best possible chance to get the answers you need. We also offer DOT physicals and other specialized services for individuals and companies operating in job sectors where work conditions could predispose you to arthropathy.
If you are suffering from chronic back pain, don’t wait. Visit one of our many walk-in clinic locations throughout Mississippi and Alabama today.