Individuals who are at higher risk for developing spinal arthritis include older patients, obese individuals, heavy laborers, and individuals with previous back injuries.
This disease is a problem that occurs in the joints that connect each spinal segment, or vertebrae. The vertebrae are connected in three places.
In front of the spinal cord, the vertebrae are separated by a cushion-like spinal disc. Behind the spinal cord, the vertebrae are connected by two small pivots called facet joints.
These facet joints, together with the spinal disc, allow movements of the spine including forward bending, arching your back, or sideways twisting. When the facet joints become arthritic, these back movements become painful and stiff.
Lumbar spine arthritis often is seen together with other back conditions like disc degeneration and spinal stenosis. As the facet joints wear out in arthritic conditions of the spine, the disc can also wear out over time, causing disc degeneration.
Facet arthritis often proceeds along with disc disease of the spine. Spinal stenosis is also often seen in individuals with lumbar spine arthritis.
As the disease progresses, nerves become pinched, leading to symptoms of spinal stenosis. These symptoms may include leg pain, numbness, tingling, and difficulty walking.
Arthritis of the lumbar spine most often causes stiffness and pain of the low back. Individuals often notice their back is especially stiff in the early morning after getting out of bed, and may loosen over the course of the day.
Symptoms also often become worse with prolonged or strenuous activity. When the disease worsens, the joints form bone spurs, the tissue swells from inflammation, and the nerves around these can become pinched.
This is a condition called spinal stenosis, which is often seen in patients with lumbar arthritis. These individuals often experience the common symptoms of spinal stenosis.
Treatment of spine arthritis depends on the symptoms experienced by the patient. Treatments always begin with simple measures and become more involved if patients don't find relief with these simple steps.
One of the treatments available for this disease is physical therapy. Physical therapy is used to strengthen the muscles of the lumbar spine.
By better supporting the spine with stronger muscles, less of the burden is placed on the facet joints. Even in patients who are fit and active, muscles around the spine can be further strengthened to alleviate symptoms.
Losing weight is a difficult task in patients who have worn-out bones. However, losing even a small amount of weight is often a sufficient step to relieving pain.
By removing even 10 pounds or more, the facet joints will support less of a load, and pain may be sufficiently relieved. Anti-inflammatory medications can decrease the amount of inflammation around the arthritic joints.
By lowering the inflammatory response, pain is often alleviated. Always use anti-inflammatory medications under your doctor's supervision.
Ice and heat applications can be very effective at relieving pain in the back. Patients usually find that heat is most effective before activity to "loosen" the spine, and ice is best used after any strenuous activities.
Chiropractors treat spine alignment, often with a process called manipulation. These treatments do not alter the back alignment, but they can provide excellent relief of pain.
Often the relief is temporary, but chiropractic treatments are a reasonable treatment to consider during a flare-up of lumbar arthritis. Alternative treatments include acupuncture, massage, magnet therapy, natural remedies, and others.
There is no doubt that many patients find significant relief from these types of treatments. While the scientific studies are lacking to support these treatments, most have few side-effects and are reasonable treatments to attempt.
Epidural injections are a way to administer a steroid shot around the area of the problem. Using a needle allows the medication to be delivered right to the area of the problem.
In patients with arthritis of a single facet joint, an even more precise injection, called a selective facet joint injection, can be performed. When all other treatments fail to provide relief of symptoms, a spine fusion may be a reasonable option for the treatment of severe facet arthritis.
Ronald Pedactor has been involved with medicine for over 20 years. He specializes in spinal recovery medicine and recommends (http://www.utahspineanddisc.com) for your back needs.