Osteoarthritis of the Spine.

After I whizzed past menopause, my GYN doctor recommended that I get a bone density scan. Loss of our protective estrogen hormones can lead to many bad things, including osteoporosis. Since I have a small frame, am white and have a family history of osteoporosis, naturally the scan showed that I already had sponge like bones. Luckily, there is now a cure for that and I licked it – using heavy doses of Fosamax and daily calcium intakes in the nose bleed territory, along with copious amounts of weight bearing exercise.

A side diagnosis from that bone density scan showed that I also had osteoarthritis of the spine, which unfortunately has no cure currently. I’m not alone in having osteoarthritis as about half the senior population has it somewhere in their body.

At the time, I had no pain in my spine, but now 10 years later, it is causing some difficulty every morning! For about a half hour, until I move around, stretching and warming my body, I can get into certain positions which cause an embarrassing lack of ability to move. Getting up from a sitting position on the couch, I get stuck halfway up and have to use my hands on my knees to push myself up – instead of relying on my back muscles. I’m sure it is most amusing to watch, not so amusing to do.

If you have pain in your hips, knees, back or hands, you may have osteoarthritis. If so, you might like to know that our scientists are working hard to find a cure.

Although several ‘cures’ are in the wings, none have been proven beyond doubt to re-generate the damage from osteoarthritis. Some of them are being studied mainly as an alternative to knee replacement and some are focused mainly on preventing osteoarthritis after an injury such as a torn ACL.

What used to be viewed as inevitable with age, like senility, is now being studied as an actual disease.

Richard Loeser Jr., MD, is the program director of both the Translational Science Institute and the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.  In Arthritis Today’s article on the cause of osteoarthritis  he says:

“The message we’re trying to get out is that OA is not simply a degenerative disease of aging, it’s an active, inflammatory disease. Your joint is not like an automobile that wears out over time.”

There are cells called chondrocytes that make up the cartilage in our joints. These types of cells, according to the article, don’t repair and regenerate themselves like our other cell types do. They are long lived making them very apt to be damaged by free radicals.

Harvard  in a press release about new osteoarthritis treatments that: Dr. Antonios Aliprantis, director of the Osteoarthritis Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital said:

“Much of the research over the last 20 or 30 years has focused on cartilage as the target. But we’re beginning to realize that there are important changes happening in the bone underneath the cartilage, and in the joint lining itself. As we begin to understand osteoarthritis as a disease of the entire joint, new treatment targets will emerge.”

Research shows that eating your broccoli may help.

Both Web MD  and Express  reported that researchers from the University of East Anglia in the U.K think that broccoli (and to a lesser degree brussel sprouts and cabbage) will halt joint damage.  It has sulforaphane in it blocks a molecule or enzyme that causes joint damage. The study was published in the journal ‘Arthritis and Rheumatism’

There may be drugs that help keep your bones intact.

If your joints have been eroded by osteoarthritis long enough, your bones may get damaged.  Europeans have used a drug called strontium ranelate to inhibit cells (osteoclasts) from breaking down bone.

You may be able to get localized pain relief.

Instead of ‘take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning’ your doctor, if Dr. Antonios Aliprantis’s dreams  come true, you may be able to inject a gel that slowly releases a drug into the offending joint as the drug is needed to repair damaged tissue.

You may be able to hold a stop sign up to the growth of your osteoarthritis.

In 7 Things You Need to Know About Osteoarthritis  story the Chicago Tribune reported on an injection into the bone of a beta inhibitor which could halt the growth of osteoarthritis.

You may be able to use stem cells to actually cure the disease.

There is a clinic in Colorado that is using a stem cell procedure to regenerate damaged joints in actual people – as well as several hospitals in Vietnam.   They are reporting great success.

Stem cells as you no doubt have heard, have the ability to change into other types of cells. ABC News article Stem Cells: Alternative to Knee Replacement stated:

“When the patient’s own stem cells are injected into a damaged joint, they appear to transform into chondrocytes, the cells that go on to produce fresh cartilage. They also seem to amplify the body’s own natural repair efforts by accelerating healing, reducing inflammation, and preventing scarring and loss of function.”

The Thanh Nien News site  described the procedure used at the Ho Chi Minh City Medicine and Pharmacy University Hospital as:

“Doctors use a needle to harvest about 100cc of patients’ abdominal fat, and extract stem cells from the adipose tissues with a centrifuge. The patients’ blood is extracted and also placed in the centrifuge to get platelet-rich plasma.

The stem cells and platelet-rich plasma are then put under a low-energy laser before being injected into the degenerative joints.

Khanh said both the plasma and low-energy laser help activate dormant stem cells, which, after activation, can differentiate into cartilage cells to replace the lost ones, and stimulate the damaged cartilage tissues to regenerate”

However, stem cell use for treatment is still in clinical trials in several countries, including the US and some doctors including Dr Tom Einhorn, chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery at Boston University think that more research is needed before using on people. He wants to see more studies on using stem cells to heal degenerative conditions instead of the studies completed, which focused more on healing traumatic injuries according to that ABC News story cited above.

Stem cell treatments are expensive and currently not covered by insurance, but if you are crippled with arthritis and can afford it, you might want to check it out with your own doctor.

Unfortunately for me, none of the above new treatments or ‘cures’ even mentioned spinal osteoarthritis. Most were focused on the knees. Luckily I don’t have much of a problem with mine….yet. If you do, check out our article on knee replacements.

Do you have osteoarthritis? How do you manage it?