Most of the time when people have back pain they attribute the aches to muscle soreness. Many people experience back pain after sitting in the same position for too long, from doing strenuous exercise, or by injuring their back in some way. However, there’s another cause that many people overlook: osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is an extremely common type of arthritis pain that can affect people of any age. Though the symptoms of osteoarthritis can be similar to back pain, there are three key signs that can help you figure out what the real problem is.
1. The pain worsens over time
Muscle pain is usually pretty stable when it first comes on, then it gradually lessens over time as your muscle tissues heal. However, arthritis pain does the exact opposite. If your pain comes on gradually and gets worse over the course of the day, it may actually be arthritis pain.
Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage between your vertebrae to break down. Over time, the bones of your spine – your vertebrae – will rub against each other once this cartilage is thin enough. This causes inflammation, which leads to pain. The more you move during the day, the more inflammation will develop and the pain will gradually increase.
Keep in mind that pain from osteoarthritis may go away for long stretches of time. But it always comes back eventually, and often worse than before.
2. You feel stiff in your spine
Everyone likes to have a good stretch in the morning to shake off the cobwebs and get moving. But for people with osteoarthritis, a good stretch isn’t enough to break the stiffness that builds overnight. If you wake up in the morning stiff and unable to bend or move, you may have osteoarthritis.
Your spine is made up of dozens of joints. Osteoarthritis attacks the cartilage of the joints and causes inflammation, which limits the range of motion for the joint. If you find it difficult to bend forward or lean to either side first thing in the morning, your problem may be osteoarthritis and not the muscles of your back.
3. You feel numbness or a tingling sensation in your arms, hands, legs, or feet.
Your spine is like Grand Central Station for the nerves that run all over your body. The nerves that allow you to feel sensations on your hands and feet stem from your spine. Because osteoarthritis causes swelling in your spine, those nerves that connect to your limbs can get pinched. When this happens, you’ll feel a tingling sensation that may progress to numbness in your limb.
Pinched nerves from osteoarthritis may also cause other problems, like weakened bladder control, weakness in the legs, or shooting pain in the limbs. If you’re experiencing any of these additional symptoms, osteoarthritis is a likely culprit.
If you think your back pain may actually be caused by osteoarthritis, talk to your doctor about your concerns. A few tests can tell you and your doctor what you’re actually dealing with. Knowing the root cause of the problem is the first step in finding relief from chronic osteoarthritis pain.