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What Is Lumbar Arthritis and How Is It Treated?

What is lumbar spine arthritis?

Lumbar spine arthritis is also known as spinal arthritis. It isn’t a condition, but rather a symptom of several forms of arthritis that affect the spine. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of lumbar arthritis pain.

It’s estimated that over 50 million Americans live with some form of doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Although lumbar arthritis isn’t a type of arthritis itself, many people living with arthritis experience pain in the lumbar area of the spine.

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Symptoms

Lumbar arthritis symptoms

Lumbar arthritis causes you to feel chronic pain or lingering soreness in the bones of the lower spine. This area contains either five or six vertebrae.

Some people feel a burning sensation after physical activity or wake up with a stiffness in the area.

Other symptoms include:

  • muscle spasms
  • creaking sounds from the joints that feel pain
  • decreased range of motion

Causes

What causes lumbar arthritis?

Lumbar arthritis pain typically develops as a result of:

Osteoarthritis

Lumbar arthritis is primarily tied to osteoarthritis (OA). In OA, the cartilage that cushions your facet joints wears away over time. The facet joints are the joints that are present on either side of the vertebra. It’s also where the vertebra join together. This causes the bones in your spine to grind and push against each other when you move.

This results in inflammation of the joint, which causes pain. External factors, such as temperature, obesity, and poor nutrition, can all cause the inflammation to flare and become worse.

Psoriatic arthritis

Another common cause of lumbar arthritis is psoriatic arthritis. This form of arthritis only affects people who have psoriasis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes raised patches of itchy, inflamed skin.

About 20 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis will experience pain in the lower back. In some cases, bony overgrowth can actually cause the vertebrae in your back to fuse together. This can result in loss of range of motion and creating a permanent sensation of stiffness.

Reactive or enteropathic arthritis

Both reactive and enteropathic arthritis are tied to lumbar arthritis symptoms.

Reactive arthritis is triggered by an infection in your body. It typically results after a bacterial infection, such as chlamydia or salmonella.

Enteropathic arthritis is typically tied to inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

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Diagnosis

How will I know if I have lumbar arthritis?

If you’re experiencing lumbar arthritis, you may have already been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. In most cases of psoriatic arthritis, a diagnosis of psoriasis will precede any arthritis symptoms that occur.

If you’re experiencing stiffness, creaking, and lost range of motion in your lower back and have never been diagnosed by a doctor with arthritis, see your doctor. They will perform a physical exam to check for inflammation and swelling at the site of your pain.

If your doctor suspects that you have arthritis, you will probably need to have an X-ray. X-rays can show any issues with bone density, cartilage loss, and bone spurs that may be causing your pain.

X-rays can also be useful in tracking your arthritis and assessing whether your recommended treatment is preventing further damage to your joints.

Your doctor will also order a blood test to determine what kind of arthritis you have.

You may be referred to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in joint pain, for further testing.

Learn more: What type of arthritis do you have? »

Treatment

Lumbar arthritis treatment

A typical treatment plan for lumbar arthritis pain will include one or more of the following:

Over-the-counter (OTC) medication

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly prescribed medications to treat back pain caused by arthritis. These medications can help relieve pain and inflammation.

Common options include:

Lifestyle changes and alternative treatments

Certain lifestyle changes can help relieve the pressure on your spine and improve your overall outlook.

These include:

  • losing weight
  • eating foods that reduce inflammation
  • quitting smoking
  • reducing alcohol consumption
What can I do for quick relief?
You may find that applying a hot or cold compress to your lower back can help ease your symptoms. Hot compresses can improve blood circulation to the area, and cold compresses can reduce swelling.

You may also benefit from working with a physical therapist. They can help you perform specific exercises that may restore lost range of motion in your lower back.

Pain from lumbar arthritis can also be treated by alternative or complementary medicine, especially in early stages. Acupuncture and chiropractic care can help ease arthritis pain felt in the lower back, but they aren’t long-term solutions.

Prescription medication and surgery

If OTC medications aren’t easing your symptoms, your doctor may recommend corticosteroids or muscle relaxants. Corticosteroids are used to control inflammation, and muscle relaxants are used to minimize muscle spasms.

Your doctor will only recommend surgery as a last resort. It’s typically only needed in cases where the bones have fused together or where the pain is so extreme that it prevents any range of motion.

Learn more: The best exercises for arthritis back pain »

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Outlook

Outlook

Almost every type of arthritis is chronic, meaning that it will continue to recur throughout your life. That said, arthritis can often be managed through a combination of medication lifestyle changes. Your individual outlook will depend on the type of arthritis that you have and the severity of your symptoms. Work with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you.

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Prevention

Can lumbar arthritis be prevented?

Your age, family history, and gender can all contribute to arthritis development. Although these factors are outside of your control, there are certain things that you can do to limit the pressure on your vertebrae. Reduced pressure may prevent flares of lumbar arthritis or other symptoms.

To reduce your risk of flare-ups:

Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying excess weight can put unnecessary stress on your joints.

Opt for low-impact exercise. Stretching, yoga, and swimming can all relieve pressure on your back.

Move with care. When dealing with heavy objects, be sure to lift with your knees and not with your back.

Keep reading: Arthritis prevention: What can you do? »

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