Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease, is characterized by bone damage, thickening of the joint cartilage and inflammation.
This usually results in pain and stiffness of the affected joint.
Osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine (lower back) is a condition often treated by physiotherapists.
There are two main types of osteoarthritis —primary and secondary OA.
Primary OA is the most common form and appears to be related to aging and hereditary factors.
Secondary OA usually results due to a previous joint injury which can include a previous fracture, repetitive joint use, or even obesity.
There are many risk factors that can contribute to the development of OA such as age, obesity, genetics and activity level.
With age, there is a higher prevalence rate in men before the age of 50; but after the age of 50, women tend to have a higher prevalence rate.
Research indicates there is a relationship between the incidence of OA and a person’s body mass index.
Body mass index, or BMI, is a measurement commonly used to measure a patient’s weight to height ratio.
Research also indicates there is a relationship involving genetics.
Strenuous, high-intensity and repetitive exercise associated with sport and/or occupation has also shown an increase in the development of OA.
There is no significant evidence to suggest moderate exercise progresses the development of osteoarthritis.
Pain is the most common complaint and initially it can be poorly localized, episodic (not constant), nagging and achy.
As osteoarthritis progresses, the pain can increase, become more localized and may also refer to different areas of the body.
Stiffness is another common complaint and this tends to increase especially following rest or early in the morning and may loosen up after you get moving.
As the OA progresses, the patient may experience locking up or giving way around the affected joint.
Treatment of the lumbar spine affected by osteoarthritis can include, but is not limited to: education, pain management using traction, ultrasound, laser, acupuncture, or interferential current.
Your physiotherapist will also focus on core stability around the lumbar spine as these muscles are often affected and can be quite useful to minimize flare ups down the road. Your physiotherapist may also start you on a program of general strengthening and stretching around the lumbar spine.
Osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine is, quite literally, a pain in the back; but this condition can often be managed to reduce flare ups and allow the patient to carry on with everyday activities.