Who Can Make a Spinal Arthritis Diagnosis?
Only a doctor can make a spinal arthritis diagnosis. Even if you've done research on the condition and feel that your symptoms match the discomfort that is commonly experienced with spinal arthritis, you should not try to diagnose yourself. An incorrect diagnosis could lead to a range of complications, especially if you try to treat yourself, including dangerous drug interactions, a worsening of symptoms, or injury.
The best way you can help your primary care physician, orthopedist, or rheumatologist make an accurate diagnosis is to describe your symptoms as thoroughly as possible. Make notes about the location, frequency, and severity of the pain you're experiencing so that you won't leave any details out when consulting with your doctor.
There are a variety of conditions that cause symptoms similar to those of degenerative spinal arthritis, also called spinal osteoarthritis. Your doctor will likely need to rule out all of the below before he or she can confidently arrive at a diagnosis of spinal osteoarthritis:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- A sprained ligament
- A strained muscle
- Piriformis syndrome
- Tumors or abscesses
- Paget's disease
Beginning a Regimen of Conservative Treatment
In the event that your doctor confirms a diagnosis of spinal osteoarthritis, a conservative treatment regimen will likely be prescribed. This may include non-invasive methods of pain relief such as prescription or over-the-counter pain medications, physical therapy, heat therapy, cold compresses, and behavior modification. The majority of patients who suffer from osteoarthritis will never even need to consider the option of surgery, which is reserved for a small number of patients whose symptoms are severe and unresponsive to conservative treatments.
If you fall into the latter category, surgical procedures for spinal arthritis are available. They are generally aimed at eliminating any nerve irritation or compression that has taken place due to the arthritis. Your doctor can tell you more about the surgeries he or she recommends, but make sure to do your own research, too, and get multiple opinions on the many surgical approaches available. Remember that you should never feel pressured or rushed into any type of operation.