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Spine Osteoarthritis in the Lower Back

Spine osteoarthritis affects the discs, joints and cartilage in the spine. It can affect any area of the spine, including the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (middle back) or lumbar spine (lower back). 

What is spine osteoarthritis?

Spine osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease, which means it worsens as our bodies age. Everyday activities or repeated strenuous tasks that place stress on the lower back can cause the joints and discs in the lumbar spine to deteriorate over time.

Spine osteoarthritis can also cause bony spurs, which can put pressure on nerves that run along the spine. 

Older individuals are at higher risk of developing spine osteoarthritis, particularly those with osteoporosis. Younger individuals may also experience osteoarthritis of the spine caused by an injury or trauma to the joint. Family history may also increase an individual’s risk of developing osteoarthritis at a younger age.

What are symptoms of spine osteoarthritis in the lumbar spine?

Symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis can vary greatly among individuals. Some individuals experience only mild symptoms that do not interfere with their lifestyles. Others may have severe symptoms that keep them from enjoying with their favorite activities.

Symptoms of spine osteoarthritis in the lumbar spine may include:

  • Stiffness in the lower back
  • Weakness or numbness in legs or arms
  • Pain that improves when laying down

How is lumbar spine osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis in the low back is diagnosed with a physical examination by your provider. Your doctor will closely examine your spine and range of motion. You will be asked to move around and bend while your doctor studies the shape and movement of your spine. 

Imaging tests, such as X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scan, may also be needed. This allows your doctor to check for other conditions, including herniated discs or bone spurs. Be sure to discuss these options with your provider. Some insurance plans have pre-requisites that need to be met before imaging can be ordered. 

How is spine osteoarthritis treated?

Arthritis is the lower back is usually effectively managed with conservative, non-surgical treatments. Your provider will work closely with you to determine the best approach to relieve your symptoms.

Pain management

The goal of pain management is to help improve your symptoms and alleviate discomfort. Your doctor may also discuss other pain relief options, including prescription medication, cortisone injections or nerve blocks. Closely follow your physician’s instructions and read all medication labels to ensure you are taking medicine safely and effectively.

Physical therapy 

Physical therapy for lumbar spine osteoarthritis can help strengthen your back and other parts of your body, and help you adapt every day activities to reduce painful symptoms. A therapist will work closely with you to develop exercises to do during therapy sessions and exercises you can do at home. 

Do I need surgery for spine osteoarthritis?

Most individuals respond well to non-surgical treatments. However, if your pain continues to interfere with daily activities, your doctor may discuss surgical procedures. There are many options available today, including minimally-invasive procedures, that can help reduce pain and recovery time.