Lumbar (Low Back) Pain Osteoarthritis

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Is Osteoarthritis to Blame for Your Low Back Pain?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and when it presents in the lumbar spine it can cause low back pain, swelling and inflammation at the affected joint. It may occur anywhere, although it most commonly affects the weight bearing joints. When osteoarthritis occurs in the lumbar spine, it begins to breakdown the cartilage of the joints and discs, resulting in low back pain.

Understanding Osteoarthritis as a Cause of Lumbar Spine Pain

When we say arthritis, we simply mean an inflammation of the joints, which causes tenderness, swelling and stiffness where it occurs. Osteo- (meaning bone) is the most common form of the condition and is also known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body. When it occurs in the lumbar spine, it is one of the most common causes of low back pain. In order to understand more about osteoarthritis and how it causes back pain, it’s helpful to take a closer look at the anatomy and function of the spine.

A healthy spine is made up of a chain of small individual bones, called vertebrae, all stacked one on top of the other. The vertebrae are separated by soft discs that cushion and protect these bones from rubbing against each other, and also absorb the impact created from everyday movements. The location where each vertebra is connected to the next is referred to as a vertebral joint, or facet joint. In a healthy joint, the ends of these bones are covered in a smooth, slippery tissue called cartilage. This covering also absorbs shock and allows the joints to glide easily and without pain.

In osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones begins to degenerate, and transforms from being smooth and elastic to rough and worn out. With nothing left to protect them, the two bony ends of the joint begin to rub directly against one another when the body moves. This bone-on-bone friction is the cause of pain, tenderness, stiffness and loss of flexibility. In addition, tiny fragments of the cartilage may break off and interfere with the motion of the joints, causing the joint to lock or stick.

In some cases, the body may try to compensate for the lack of padding between the vertebral joints by manufacturing little bits of bone that are deposited around the affected joint. These bony protrusions are commonly known as bone spurs, and are created by the body in an attempt to restore some stability to the joints. As these spurs become larger, they may grow into the surrounding space that the spinal nerves occupy. If one of these nerves is compressed or its path blocked, numbness, tingling and weakness can result. This pain will start at the root of the nerve and radiate through the low back and extremities. Many people find relief from this pain while sitting or lying down.

The most common risk factors for developing spinal osteoarthritis are general aging, and repetitive tension on the joints. Carrying extra body weight also puts an added stress on the weight-bearing joints.

Spinal osteoarthritis is a fairly common condition, affecting millions of people worldwide. Wear and tear of the joints leading to the degeneration of some cartilage is considered a normal part of the aging process. However, if you are experiencing symptoms, is still important to be monitored by a spine health expert. Early diagnosis and treatment of lumbar osteoarthritis can slow progression of the disease, relieve low back pain, and help to restore healthy joint function.

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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