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Arthritis - What is it, and What Causes it?

Arthritis, an inflammatory condition of the joints, is the leading cause of disability in people older than fifty-five years in Australia. There are over 100 different types of arthritis that affect both children and adults.

Arthritis comes in many forms and affects different parts of the body. It is a group of conditions that damages the joints with adverse effects on the soft tissues of the body such as ligaments and tendons.

The most common forms of arthritis are degenerative disease (eg. Osteoarthritis), autoimmune disease (eg. Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis) and metabolic disease (eg. Gout)

What Happens In an Arthritic Joint?

In a normal healthy joint, the bone surfaces are covered with cartilage, and synovial fluid acts as lubrication and cushion between these two bones.

When the joints start to degenerate, they become narrower, and the cartilage begins to wear. Eventually, the joint surfaces start to rub against one another causing pain, inflammation and swelling.

Over time, the joint becomes damaged and deformed. Unless the damage is severe, it cannot be seen with naked eye. Usually an X-ray or an MRI is needed to determine the severity of the damage.

How can the spine affect arthritis?

When a joint no longer moves through an even range of motion, this may create excessive movement in one direction and restricted motion in other directions. This creates an unusual stress and load on the joint that can contribute to early degeneration and narrowing of the joint space.

Chiropractors call this a ‘subluxation’. This is where the joint no longer moves properly, not only causing mechanical problems and damage, but also nerve irritation and scrambling of messages between the body and brain. When messages that pass between the brain and body are scrambled, this can lead to poor joint control.

Poor joint control over long periods can initiate the process of arthritis or speed up the existing degeneration in an arthritic joint.

Can arthritis affect the spine?

When the spine is affected by subluxation, it can lead to many problems related to nervous system interference – back pain, numbness, muscle weakness, even altered internal organ function. As well as these effects, it can also cause or speed up the degeneration process of the vertebrae.

As part of the degeneration process, the discs in the spine become tougher, more fibrous and less able to act as a shock absorber.

As time progresses, not only do the joints become damaged and deformed, the nerve fibers that exit from the vertebral canals (holes between 2 spinal bones) also become damaged. Unfortunately, in the spine, this cannot be seen by the naked eye. A X-ray or an MRI is generally needed to determine the severity of the damage.

As the damage accumulates over time, this places more stress on the spinal joints, leading to more severe arthritis. These symptoms are not part of the normal ageing process and can be prevented, or at least greatly reduced, if treated early enough in its progression.

What are the other causes of arthritis?

There is no single cause of all types of arthritis. The cause or causes vary according to the type or form of arthritis.

Possible causes may include:

  • injury, leading to degenerative arthritis
  • abnormal metabolism, leading to gout and pseudo-gout
  • infections, such as in the arthritis of Lyme disease
  • immune system dysfunction, such as in Rheumatoid arthritis

Most types of arthritis are linked to a combination of factors, but some have no obvious cause and appear to be unpredictable in their emergence.

Some people may be genetically more likely to develop certain arthritic conditions. Additional factors, such as previous injury, infection, smoking and physically demanding occupations, can interact with genes to further increase the risk of arthritis.

We’re here to help

At Canberra Spine Centre, we help people with arthritis every day to recover normal function and to feel great again.

If you have arthritis and you’d like to know if we can help you, please call us on (02) 6257 9400.

If you would like some more information about the spine and nervous system and how it relates to your health, please check out the other articles on our Facebook page or go to our website: Also, make sure you read the other interesting articles we post on arthritis this month.