Doc, I was told that I have arthritis in my neck and lower back. Is it genetic or is it just aging?
This is a very common question I hear nearly daily. Some people may have a genetic disposition to Osteoarthirits (OA). Nevertheless, since we can’t change our genes or age, let’s focus on what we can change.
OA is most common in weight bearing joints, such as knees, hips and the spine. OA is also seen frequently in the shoulders and hands, with overuse and repetitive movements. It is common in the first toe (bunion) as well.
With OA in the knees, we may see swelling in the knees. With OA in the hands, we may see nodules in the fingers. OA in the spine may show with poor posture, such as forward head posture and poor sitting posture habits. Some people with OA in the spine may have chronic, recurrent neck and lower back pain. For others arthritis in the spine may progress for many years before acute pain appears.
How poor posture can cause arthritis in the spine?
Chronic poor posture (standing, sitting and even sleeping) places excessive stresses on the spine. The head weighs just over 10 pounds on average. Forward head posture increases the stress on the neck tremendously. The further the head is forward, the more stress is placed on the spine and muscles around the neck. Poor sitting posture and decrease in the natural low back curve may also cause early arthritis in the lower back pain, due to excessive stress on the spine. http://http://www.arthritis-health.com/video/lumbar-osteoarthritis-video
Let’s start with a good night sleep
A good support pillow is a great start. Are you a back sleeper, side or stomach sleeper? If you are back sleeper, make sure that your head is not tilted forward. If you are a side sleeper, you should choose a pillow that supports the head in line with your neck. If you are a stomach sleeper, try training yourself to get comfortable sleeping on your side. Here’s a video about choosing a pillow.
How about my chair?
Most people aren’t thinking about the many aspects of chair adjustability that are available on the market! There’s seat height, seat depth, seat width, tilt, and armrest height. In addition to chair height and depth adjustment (You want to make sure your arms are at a 90 degree angle as you type on your key board, you want your feet to sit naturally on the floor, with your knees at a right angle), an office chair should also include lumbar support that provides both vertical and depth adjustment. This website speaks to how to choose an ergonomic chair: http://www.thehumansolution.com/how-to-choose-the-best-ergonomic-chair.html
“Motion is lotion”. I often tell patients that “motion is lotion” to proper joint motion. The severity of OA will impact the available range of motion, but there are things you can do to improve the situation. Getting up and moving around regularly, rather than sitting for long periods is key. Periodic stretching is also valuable. Here is one of my favourite sets of quick exercises that I prescribe to patients to improve movement in the lumbar spine. Check out this short Wobble cushion/chair exercise video.
Exercise is important. Proper exercise, with the correct biomechanics and posture, strengthens the spine and the joints, as well as helps to reduce excessive wear and tear. It’s important to have your chiropractor, physiotherapist, sports injury physician, or at the very least a well-trained personal trainer oversee your exercise routine, based on your posture, biomechanical issues, injuries, orthopaedic conditions, etc.
In short, a few steps taken early in life can decrease the impact of, or even prevent, Osteoarthritis.