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Rheum in the Back: Effects of Spinal Arthritis

By Martha Michael

Treat Arthritis and Low Back Pain with Chiropractic

If you had a magical rearview mirror, perhaps you could come to a quick conclusion about the cause of lower back pain and stiffness. For many people it’s one form of spondyloarthritis (arthritis that attacks the spine in most cases) or another that’s causing their symptoms. But there are a number of possibilities when you suffer from chronic spinal pain.

Arthritic inflammation and stiffness can affect the muscles, joints and bones in your back, and those who suffer from it tend to get swelling and pain as a result. According to the American College of Rheumatology, in the case of spondyloarthritis, ligaments and tendons attached to the bones are affected, causing patients to experience pain in the back, arms, legs or feet. Individuals with axial spondyloarthritis tend to suffer in the lower back region, while those with peripheral spondyloarthritis are mainly affected by swelling in the arms and legs.

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS), also know as Marie-Strümpell disease, is a hereditary form of arthritis that develops in the spine, says About 90 percent of Caucasians with this condition carry the gene HLA-B27, which causes the disease, and certain groups have a larger number of individuals who possess the gene. They include northern cultures such as:

  • Alaskan Eskimos
  • Siberian Eskimos
  • Some Native American tribes
  • Scandinavian Lapps

As ankylosing spondylitis progresses, patients may experience pain in the sacroiliac joints, where the base of the spine meets the pelvis.

According to, nearly 500,000 people in the United States are affected by AS, and it’s more common in men than women. It may develop in childhood, with symptoms typically starting in the hips and knees before developing in the spine.

The inflammation that occurs along the joints and ligaments of the spine can cause pain that begins in the lower back and radiates down to the buttocks, or up into the chest and neck. If the spine’s vertebrae fuse over time, the backbone becomes rigid. And because AS is a systemic disease, organs may become affected too.

Osteoarthritis is also a form of chronic degenerative arthritis of the back. In this case, the cartilage that cushions the bones at their joints begins to break down, which can increase spinal damage.

Growths called spurs may form on the vertebrae, and movement can cause pain and irritation. The Arthritis Foundation says that when spurs compress the nerves, it can be painful, and when new bone begins forming, the spinal canal can narrow, which is called spinal stenosis. By affecting nerves, which have a variety of functions, a victim of stenosis may experience issues from numbness in the legs to constipation and urinary incontinence.


Although there is no cure for arthritis, your chiropractor can guide you to create a joint-directed exercise routine to increase mobility and make your spine more limber.

“Pain, fatigue and stiffness can be continuous or off and on,” says the Arthritis Foundation website. “Despite these symptoms, most patients with spondyloarthritis lead productive lives and have a normal lifespan.”

The article recommends frequent exercise to improve the performance of your joints and to maximize cardiac wellness. Smoking is discouraged because it aggravates spondyloarthritis and may cause your spine to fuse.

An article on the Arthritis Foundation’s website about living with the condition says that chiropractors use more than 150 techniques in treating arthritis patients with manual adjustments to the spine, muscles and joints.

“A chiropractor may gently manipulate your soft tissue to stop muscle spasms and relieve tenderness,” the article says. “Or she may use active exercises or traction to slowly stretch your joints and increase your range of motion. Your visit may feel like a more hands-on version of physical therapy.”

Manual treatment is a way for your practitioner to address the structure and how it relates to the function your body needs restored.

The article’s writer, Carolyn Sayre, says the American College of Physicians released new guidelines supporting the use of therapies such as chiropractic care and acupuncture to successfully treat lower back pain, instead of medication. A 2017 review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that spinal manipulation reduces back pain.

When your chiropractor’s got your back, you don’t need any magic mirrors. With healthy habits, including exercise and routine visits, you can continue full speed ahead, confident the road will rise up to meet you.

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