More signs that back pain is arthritis
3. Neck pain that radiates into the head and shoulders
A pulled muscle in the neck or shoulder typically affects one localized area -- you may even be able to touch or pinch the muscle and feel that it's swollen. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, may affect the cervical or thoracic spine, causing pain to be felt upward and outward.
What it feels like: Upper back or neck pain that radiates upward into the neck and base of the skull. Some people begin to experience chronic headaches that they attribute to tension headaches. It may hurt in one specific area, or the pain may recur throughout a large area, moving from spot to spot. You may notice that your neck feels tingly or numb.
Why it happens: Two things may be happening here: Both your muscles and nerves may be affected. Increased stiffness and reduced range of motion may cause you to use different muscles than you typically would, causing tension, muscle strain, and soreness throughout the neck and shoulders. Nerves may also be irritated by pressure from bony spurs, called osteophytes, that form along the cervical spine, which is the uppermost third of the spine that includes the neck. Nerve pain can cause severe pain and stiffness of the shoulders and neck and can move upward into the base and back of the skull.
4. Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, and fingers
Some people confuse carpal tunnel syndrome with arthritis of the spine because some of the symptoms can be similar. A loss of sensation or stiffness in the wrists, hands, and fingers may make it feel like you're losing control of your fine motor movements.
What it feels like: Twinges, tingling, or numbness that radiates down from the shoulder through the arm. Depending on where nerve compression is occurring, you may feel pain all the way down your arm or in one specific place, such as your wrists, and it may come and go.
Why it happens: Inflammation and bony overgrowth of the cervical and thoracic spine can impinge upon and irritate spinal nerves, causing numbness, stiffness, and tingling and reducing sensation and motor control in the arms, hands, and fingers.
5. Pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs
A feeling of numbness or tingling that radiates down the buttocks and into the legs is typical of osteoarthritis of the spine as it progresses.
What it feels like:You might notice a lack of sensation in your legs, as if they're numb or asleep. Your legs might also feel weak or as if they're cramping or buckling. In worst-case scenarios, people develop balance problems or have trouble walking. Loss of bladder control is also possible, though less common.
Why it happens: Over time, wear and tear can cause the spinal canal -- the opening inside each vertebra where the spinal cord passes through -- to become narrower. When this narrowing becomes significant (a condition known as spinal stenosis), it can pinch or compress the spinal cord or the nerve roots that emerge from the spinal cord, leading to pain and numbness that radiates down the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet. Disc compression or injury, often occurring at the same time or as a result of arthritis, can also cause pain, known as sciatica, that radiates down the legs.