Dr. Kamal Thapar, MD., PhD., FRCSC., FAANS
1200 Oakleaf Way, Suite A, Altoona, WI 54720

Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Spine

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the lining of the joints in the body. It typically affects the smaller joints in the body including those in the hands and wrists, but it can also affect the joints in the spine. It can affect any part of the spine, but it most often occurs in the cervical spine (neck).


Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the autoimmune system mistakenly attacks your own body tissues, specifically the lining of the joints, which leads to inflammation. There appears to be a genetic component as rheumatoid arthritis tends to occur in families. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs more commonly in women than in men and typically begins in individuals who are 40-60 years of age.


– Neck pain

– Arm pain or leg pain

– Back pain

– Swelling and warmth at the affected joints

– Reduced range of motion of the spine

– Numbness and tingling


In order to confirm the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in the spine, x-rays are taken of the affected area. In addition to standard x-rays, it is important to obtain x-rays with the patient bending forward and bending backward to ensure there is no instability of the spine. Additionally, an MRI of the affected area may be necessary to establish whether any spinal nerves are being compressed and whether the spinal cord is affected.


Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis of the spine generally consists of medical management by a rheumatologist to reduce inflammation and prevent damage to the joints. There are several medications available that help prevent the arthritis from worsening. If there is instability of the spine at the level of the arthritis, surgical intervention may be required; which would typically involve a fusion of the upper cervical spine.