Living With Spinal Arthritis

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The symptoms experienced by those living with arthritis in the back (spinal arthritis) can be debilitating and interfere with day-to-day life. While physical challenges such as pain, loss of mobility, and fatigue are a part of spinal arthritis, you may also experience emotional challenges such as anger, sadness, or changes in your social life.

Fortunately, a diagnosis of spinal arthritis doesn’t have to mean spending your days isolated and in pain. There are several things you can do to ease pain, improve spine function, and live life to its fullest. These don’t need to be done all at once. Focus on taking small steps each day to make improvements bit by bit. 

exercise class

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Emotional 

Living with chronic back pain caused by arthritis can lead to stress, anxiety, sadness, depression, and other mental-health-related issues. These are normal emotions felt in response to a challenging situation, and it’s OK to feel these things. Studies show that up to 85% of people living with chronic pain experience depression.

The vicious cycle of pain and low mood can affect the management of your arthritis. Anxiety and depression can lower your pain threshold, making your experience of pain even more intense. Research shows that chronic pain can aggravate anxiety and depression.

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

If you are experiencing ongoing emotional struggles due to the pain and/or your diagnosis, consider asking for support and finding healthy ways to cope. Speak with your doctor about your feelings. They may refer you to a mental health professional to help you treat both your physical and emotional pain. 

Physical

Diet

Good nutrition and a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables are important in managing your arthritis and supporting your overall health. In addition to helping reduce inflammation and pain, eating well will also help keep you at a healthy weight, reducing strain and stress on your joints that extra weight can cause. 

While a healthy diet will not cure arthritis, certain foods have been shown to strengthen bones, reduce inflammation, and boost the immune system. Adding these foods to your diet may help ease the symptoms of arthritis:

  • Omega-3s: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D (such as salmon and trout) have strong anti-inflammatory effects and help reduce the severity of arthritis symptoms. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish per week.
  • Leafy greens: Broccoli, spinach, and kale are excellent sources of vitamins E and C. Vitamin E protects the body against inflammation, and Vitamin C helps the body produce collagen, which supports cartilage and helps increase joint flexibility.
  • Berries: Berries—such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries—are high in antioxidants, which help fight inflammation in the body. 
  • Garlic and onions: Both garlic and onions contain powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals that have been shown to provide pain relief to those living with arthritis.

Exercise

Regular exercise is important for overall health and can help manage symptoms of spinal arthritis. Strengthening and stretching the back is crucial to managing arthritis in the back. Strong, flexible back and neck muscles help ease pressure on the discs and joints, and help limit the disease’s progression and intensifying symptoms.

Regular exercise that focuses on mobility and strengthening the back and neck has been shown to significantly reduce pain in those living with chronic back pain.

Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga, and stretching are all excellent ways to move your body, burn calories, and strengthen muscles without adding too much stress to painful joints.   

Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise plan. They may help you develop an exercise regimen that is best for you. 

Social

Living with a chronic condition can often leave us feeling like no one understands and can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness. Know that you are not alone in your struggles with spinal arthritis.

Speak with your friends and family members to help them understand what you’re going through. It can be hard to open up about our struggles, but emotional support from loved ones can help us feel supported and cared for.

A support group may be beneficial if you are not getting the support or understanding you need, or if you don’t feel comfortable talking openly with family and friends. Joining in-person support groups or online communities to connect with others who are living with back arthritis and understand the daily struggles you are facing can help eliminate those feelings of “going it alone.”

Connection can go a long way in helping you feel understood and supported, helping you find the inner strength needed to face the challenges of living with arthritis. To find an in-person support group, ask your doctor or local healthcare organization for recommendations. 

Practical 

Your life at home and at work will be affected, but there are steps you can take to cope.

Self-Care

Self-care is important in the management of your spinal arthritis. No matter what you are doing throughout the day, aim to get up and walk/stretch every 20–30 minutes to adjust your position and prevent pain, stiffness, and fatigue.

Carve out time each day to relax and decompress to help reduce stress and give your body a chance to rest. Treat yourself to the things that make you feel good—spending time with loved ones, reading a good book, or gardening. Keep a healthy sleep schedule to ensure you get the proper amount of sleep (seven to eight hours) each night. 

Working

Whether working from home or in an office setting, ensure you have an ergonomically friendly workstation. For example, you may want to use a chair with lumbar support so that you can remain seated in a neutral sitting posture, with your bottom at the back of the chair and your spine touching the lumbar curve of the chair.

If your office doesn’t provide an appropriate chair or other equipment to support your needs, you can request workplace accommodation. 

Keep Medical Appointments 

Be aware of your arthritis symptoms each day so that you can take care of any changes right away. Call your doctor if your symptoms progress or worsen, or if your medications and treatments are no longer providing relief.

With a chronic condition like arthritis, it is important to attend all of your medical appointments so your doctor(s) can work with you to keep you as healthy and strong as possible.

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