Lumbar (Low Back) Pain Arthritis

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Is Arthritis to Blame for Your Low Back Pain?

Tenderness, pain, swelling, and joint stiffness- These are the symptoms caused by the condition most commonly referred to as “arthritis”. Arthritis is a disease that is non-discriminatory and can affect any joint in the body. When arthritis occurs in the spine, it begins to break down the cartilage of the discs and joints, often resulting in what can be severe low back pain.

Understanding Arthritis as a Cause of Lumbar Spine Pain

In many people with arthritis that affects the lower spine, this condition can present itself with sometimes excruciating lower back pain. In general, arthritis can be generally referred to as an inflammation of the joints. There are many different types and locations in the body where it may appear. When arthritis occurs in the joints of the spine it is referred to as spinal arthritis, and can be one of the most common causes of back pain. In order to understand how exactly the condition causes the pain, it’s helpful to understand a little bit more about the structure and function of the spine.

The spine is comprised of a long string of small bony structures, called vertebrae, all linked together in a chain-like configuration. Between each vertebra are soft discs that act as cushions, to keep the bones from rubbing against each other. The location where each vertebra is connected to the next is referred to as a vertebral joint, or facet joint. These joints allow the spine to bend, twist, and move freely without pain.
When a person is diagnosed with lumbar spinal arthritis, it means that there is a breakdown of the cartilage that protects the bones and discs in the lower back. As the cartilage degenerates, the bony ends of the facet joints between the vertebras become exposed, and rub directly against one another. In addition, as part of the normal aging process, vertebral discs begin to loose fluid volume over time, causing them to dry out and shrink. As they become thinner, the space between the vertebrae becomes smaller. This puts the bones at a higher risk of coming into direct contact with one another, with little or no cushion in between.

In an attempt to compensate for the loss of volume between the joints, the body will manufacture small bony deposits, called bone spurs. These growths typically form on the facet joints, and around the spinal vertebrae, in an effort to restore stability to the joint. Formation of these spurs is an indication that degeneration of the spine is present. As with degeneration of the discs, bone spur formation is considered a normal part of aging; however, the problem arises when the spurs become large enough to infringe on the surrounding nerves. The spurs may squeeze or entrap the nerves that are passing through the spinal structures, reducing the amount of free space for the nerves to pass. The narrowing of these channels is referred to as spinal stenosis, and can be the cause of radiating pain, weakness, and numbness in the low back due to the compression of the lumbar nerves.

The most common risk factors for developing spinal arthritis are being over the age of 50, and over-using the spinal joints. Repetitive lifting or bending, as well as constantly slouching while seated at a desk can increase the chances for developing arthritis that results in lumbar spine pain. Treatment generally involves removing pressure from the nerves that are causing the pain. Many people who experience spinal arthritis are still able to live active lives. If you feel spinal arthritis may be to blame for your low back pain, it’s important to consult with a spine health expert, who can help tailor a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Low Back Pain at Home

  • Regular stretching and exercise can help prevent and ease low back pain.
  • When lifting heavy objects, use your legs for leverage, not your back.
  • Walk cautiously and wear shoes with good traction when walking on slippery surfaces.
  • When carrying something, be sure to distribute its weight evenly, not favoring one side.
  • Consult a spine specialist for severe low back pain that hasn’t resolved with conservative methods in a few weeks.

Health Tips

  • Always eat breakfast
  • Eat your fruit and veg
  • Take time to shop each week
  • Sit down at the table to eat
  • Get adequate rest daily.

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