What Is Spinal Gout?

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: January 25, 2023

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Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops when your body cannot adequately get rid of uric acid that builds up in the bloodstream. When this happens, microscopic urate crystals can develop in the joints, irritating the delicate soft tissues and causing a host of symptoms. Gout is far more common in the feet, but uric acid buildup can affect other joints in the body, including in the spine. Below, we take a closer look at spinal gout and talk you through a few simple treatment options.

Why Does Gout Develop?

As we noted above, gout occurs when the body cannot rid itself of high levels of uric acid in the blood, which in turn leads to the formation of urate crystals. But what causes high levels of uric acid in the body (hyperuricemia), and why would the body be unable to regulate this acid like normal?

Uric acid is a waste product that is formed when the body works to break down purines, which are water-soluble organic compounds found in the body and in certain foods and beverages. Eating a diet that is high in red meat, fructose, organ meat and seafood can put you at risk for gout onset, as can regular alcohol consumption. Some non-food factors that can increase your risk of gout include being male, being overweight, having high blood pressure, having cardiac or kidney issues or being diabetic.

When uric acid crystals form in the spine, they can affect a number of sensitive areas. They can cause problems for your spinal facet joints, your lamina, the ligamentum flavum or the epidural space. Spinal gout typically affects these structures in your lumbar spine, but it can develop in other spinal segments. Symptoms will vary based on the exact location and which structures are affected, but the most common symptoms include:

  • Back pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness
  • Reduced bladder or bowel control
  • Decreased sensation in your lower back, buttocks and legs
  • Cramping

Diagnosis And Treatment

Medical estimates suggest that upwards of one in three people will deal with a spinal gout flare up at some point in their life, but oftentimes the condition is missed for a few different reasons. For starters, spinal gout presents with symptoms that mimic a lot of other back problems, so it could be misdiagnosed. Secondly, symptoms are often mild and respond well to some simple daily adjustments, so you may be able to alleviate symptoms without an official diagnosis as long as you take better care to prioritize your health.

If you’re presenting with the above symptoms, especially if you have gout in your feet or toes, your doctor will conduct a physical exam to look for sensitivity issues in your spinal column. Muscle strength and reflex tests may also be conducted, and they may confirm their suspicions with the help of a blood test to examine uric acid levels.

If your doctor believes that you are suffering from spinal gout, treatment will mimic the methods used to treat the condition in other joints. Certain medications to help reduce uric acid in the bloodstream may be helpful, but treatment will mainly focus on making some healthy lifestyle improvements. Losing weight, reducing alcohol intake, improving your diet and getting regular exercise (exercise helps the body remove uric acid) will all help to get your spinal gout under control. These techniques are great in both the short- and the long-term for gout management.

For more information about spinal gout, or to talk to a spinal specialist about a different back issue that you’re dealing with, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi and the team at The Midwest Spine & Brain Institute today at (651) 430-3800.

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