Lumbar arthritis is a symptom of arthritis that affects the spine. The most common cause of lumbar arthritis is osteoarthritis.
The condition develops gradually and is often associated with spinal degeneration in older adults.
Lumbar arthritis is very common, affecting maybe 40 to 85 percent of people in the United States, according to a 2013 report in Current Rheumatology Reports.
While OA is thought to be a normal part of aging, the pain and stiffness of lumbar arthritis can limit a person’s ability to do even the simplest tasks, especially those that require bending and stretching.
Lumbar arthritis pain results from movement and inactivity.
It may be worse after standing or sitting upright for prolonged periods. Bending sideways or backward can also cause pain.
Pain can be felt from the center of the low back and may expand to the pelvic area or the sides of the buttocks. Pain can also go into the thighs but rarely spreads to the knees.
Lumbar arthritis may also cause muscle spasms, joint creaking, stiffness, and a decreased range of motion in the low back.
Symptoms are usually slow to develop and not noticeable at first. However, any rapid movement, twisting, and backward motion in the low back may cause injury to the lumbar area and symptoms for people with this condition.
Lumbar arthritis results from specific arthritic conditions. The most common reason for lumbar arthritis symptoms is OA with other types sometimes involved.
Persistent damage from OA in the facet joints of the spine eventually causes those joints to wear away. As a result, the spine bones start to grind and push together with movement.
OA inflammation might result from external factors, including poor diet, being overweight, and genetics.
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA)
Lumbar arthritis has also been linked to PsA. Typically, PsA affects people with psoriasis, but the condition appears on its own in some instances.
Low back pain is a symptom of PsA. According to the Arthritis Foundation, up to 20 percent of people with this condition have spine involvement. In some cases, bony overgrowth can cause the vertebrae to fuse together, causing stiffness and pain with movement.
This type of arthritis primarily involves the spine and sacroiliac joints and often affects young adults, teenagers, or children. In the U.S., at least 1 percent of the population has this very painful form of arthritis.
Spondyloarthritis is also associated with inflammation of tendons and ligaments where they enter bone, called the enthesitis.
According to the Spondylitis Association of America, enteropathic arthritis affects people with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In enteropathic arthritis, the sacroiliac (SI) joints are affected, causing low back pain.
The SI joints are located between the sacrum and bones of the pelvis and are supported by sturdy ligaments. The sacrum is the main support of the spine.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
RA can affect various joints in the body, including the facet joints of the spine, causing pain. It can also destroy the joints of the spine that it affects, although these are primarily in the upper neck (C1-C2).
Osteoporosis causes bones to lose mass and become brittle and prone to injury with even the smallest traumas. Osteoporosis is primarily due to aging. When it affects the spine, the inner spongy and more solid outer parts of the vertebrae become weak and painful with time. Eventually, bone collapse can occur.
Some researchers think most cases of lumbar arthritis are related to OA. Some could also be related to spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and other forms of arthritis.
A few studies have looked at rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lumbar spine disorders. One recent one from Japan examined the prevalence and risks for cervical and lumbar spine instability in people with RA.
What they found was 36.7 percent of the study participants exhibited lumbar spinal instability while 17.2 percent had both cervical and lumbar spinal instability. Having both conditions was related to disease duration and severity.
Doctors typically diagnose lumbar arthritis with a physical examination. They may also order imaging studies, such as X-rays, when needed.
A doctor will also need information from the individual about their symptoms, the pattern of pain, and the reduced range of motion in the low back.
Treatment for lumbar arthritis includes:
- OTC pain medication
- lifestyle changes
- alternative therapies
- prescription medications
If standard medication does not work, doctors can prescribe stronger NSAIDs if needed.
Certain lifestyle changes can keep pressure off the spine and improve a person’s quality of life. Lifestyle changes to help symptoms of lumbar arthritis include:
- weight loss
- a healthful diet, including inflammation-reducing foods
- not smoking
- not drinking alcohol in excess
- exercise, especially water therapy and abdominal strengthening
Quick relief therapies for lumbar arthritis include hot and cold compresses to improve blood flow and reduce swelling.
The same type of precautions taken for overall back health can also help prevent lumbar arthritis, whether a person has been diagnosed with a form of arthritis or not.
- reducing risk of injury by lifting correctly
- practicing proper posture
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eating a healthful diet
- wearing proper shoes, as some shoes can throw off posture and cause long-term problems
- giving up smoking
Chronic arthritis and its many symptoms can be managed with medication and good lifestyle habits. People should work with their doctors to find the best treatment plan for their particular situations and symptoms.