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Dear Dr. Caraotta,
My doctor took an x-ray and told me that I have arthritis in my low back. How did I get this? Arthritis doesn't run in my family. Will this arthritis spread?
Dr. Caraotta's Response
The most common type of arthritis that is found on a spinal x-ray is osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. This is when the pads or discs between the vertebra wear down and the vertebra are approximated. This condition is usually not acquired by heredity but rather by the following reasons:
When the spine is traumatized, if expedient or proper care is not rendered, often times the disc will degenerate and form osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. This phenomenon is not only commonly found in the low back but is common in other spinal regions as well. Many times, several years following a whiplash injury osteoarthritis is evident in the cervical spine. This is one reason why it is vitally important for a person to have expedient care following a spinal injury such as this.
Often times a patient may sustain a seemingly insignificant injury after a accident, because they compensate for the injury. If a spinal segment is not moving properly after a accident, a person may have little to no pain because of the way they are compensating, but the danger in this is that the disc that is not moving long term, may atrophy or degenerate and form arthritis.
This could be compared to a person who has their arm in a cast. If the arm is immobilized for 2-3 weeks, the muscles atrophy. This is similar to what happens after a spinal injury that is not properly rehabilitated.
Usually osteoarthritis in a joint that is caused by trauma or immobility will not spread to other areas. Routine chiropractic treatments mobilize joints and minimizes wear and tear in spinal segments. Patients who practice good ergonomics, exercise and get in for an occasional chiropractic treatment or preventative care usually stay active longer, minimize arthritic changes, and are able to live a more active and productive lifestyle.