Treating spinal arthritis in the lower back, or lumbar region of the spine, is usually necessary for patients experiencing mild to severe pain. No one person will experience spinal arthritis the same way as another, and treatments should be specifically tailored to provide the most effective pain relief possible in a each situation. Before exploring the types of treatments available for patients with spinal arthritis in the lower back, it can be helpful to understand how the condition can develop.
Why is the Lumbar Spine Susceptible to Arthritis?
There are more than 100 known types of arthritis. Generally speaking, arthritis involves the inflammation of one or more of the body’s joints, such as the knees, hips, fingers, and spine. The term “spinal arthritis” is often used interchangeably with “spinal osteoarthritis,” which is the most commonly diagnosed form of the degenerative disease. Spinal arthritis affects the facet joints of the spine, which are the points where individual vertebrae connect together to form a column of bones that’s able to move, bend, and twist. The facet joints give the neck and back its highly flexible characteristics, allowing us to turn in many directions without a problem.
The lumbar region (in the lower back) endures extreme stress throughout our lifetimes, as it is responsible for supporting the upper body weight, as well as maintaining a high level of motion. It is due to this stress and the effects of the normal aging process that spinal arthritis in the lower back can develop.
How Does Lumbar Spinal Arthritis Form?
The condition is characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage that covers the facet joints. Cartilage in the body dehydrates progressively over time and can wear away. This protective lining of the facet joints can wear away enough to not only uncover raw bone, but also to irritate the medial branch nerves that carry pain signals into facet joints. Nerve irritation, coupled with bone-on-bone friction, can cause symptoms of pain, inflammation, stiffness, and tenderness that affect the lower back.
Additionally, the rubbing of raw bone can cause osteophytes, or bone spurs, to develop. While these bony nodules are not painful in and of themselves, they may possibly impinge the spinal cord or a nerve root. Nerve impingement in the lower back typically presents with symptoms of localized pain, as well as radiating pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness through the lower back, hips, buttocks, legs, and feet.
Spinal arthritis in the lower back should be properly diagnosed by a doctor or spine specialist before any treatment plan is implemented, as the symptoms of the condition can often be confused with a number of other spinal or general health issues. Furthermore, treatments will likely vary based on the patient’s age and overall physical condition, as well as which lumbar joints are affected and how severe symptoms are. Once lumbar spinal arthritis has been diagnosed, a doctor may recommend one or more of the following conservative (non-surgical) treatment methods:
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
• Physical therapy
• Hot/cold therapy
• Low-impact exercises
• Strength training
• Activity and behavior modification
• Corticosteroid facet joint injections
In most cases, these conservative treatments can provide sufficient pain relief. However, patients whose symptoms do not respond to such methods may then be asked to consider surgery. Fortunately, surgery is rarely required to treat spinal arthritis in the lower back. Furthermore, there are a variety of outpatient endoscopic procedures available to treat spinal osteoarthritis, and these minimally invasive procedures provide many patients with long-term symptom relief in a matter of hours.