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Lumbar Arthritis Symptoms

Lumbar and Lumbosacral arthritis affects the lower back and pelvic girdle, causing pain, inflammation, and the loss of motion in these areas.

The word ‘arthritis,’ which literally means ‘inflammation of the joint,’ is used to describe a group of distinct diseases. These conditions all have in common symptoms of pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints and the tissues surrounding them.

The joints of the body, including the vertebrae, are cushioned by shock absorbing cartilage. With time, cartilage begins to degenerate, sometimes resulting in arthritis. Lumbar and lumbosacral arthritis affects the lower back and pelvic girdle, causing pain, inflammation, and the loss of motion in those areas.

Causes of Lumbar Arthritis

With lumbar and lumbosacral arthritis, the symptoms effect the normally soft disks between the vertebrae of the lower back gradually lose their elasticity and their ability to cushion the bones effectively.

Beginning at about age 20, the disks of the spine begin to lose their elasticity and become dehydrated. The lumbar disks become less supple and lose some of their height. This alters the position of the vertebrae and the connecting ligaments, sometimes leading to tears in disk tissue. Bony spurs may develop on the vertebrae, representing further degeneration of the spine.

While the exact cause of lumbar and lumbosacral arthritis is not known, some degeneration of the spine is thought to be the result of the normal aging process. Sometimes an old injury or a direct blow to the spine will add to the arthritis.

Some people appear to inherit a tendency to develop osteoarthritis. Others may develop rheumatoid arthritis, a systemic condition in which the synovial tissue that lines the joints of the body becomes inflamed. People who are overweight or sedentary are also at greater risk, as are those who have suffered back injuries. Those whose occupations require heavy lifting, long periods of sitting or driving, or other repetitive pressures on the backbone are also at risk for arthritis in this part of the spine.

Postmenopausal women develop arthritis more often than men. They are also more likely to develop osteoporosis, a condition resulting in porous, weakened bones as a result of low calcium. Infection may also sometimes play a role in triggering arthritic symptoms.

Lumbar Arthritis Symptoms

The most common symptom of all forms of arthritis is inflammation resulting in pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints and the connective tissue surrounding them. This pain is often more intense in the early morning or after periods of inactivity. With lumbosacral arthritis, the pain may spread into the pelvic region. It often results in an altered gait or changes to your posture. As a result, it may have an impact on other weight-bearing joints, especially the knee, hip, and ankle joints.

The discomfort associated with arthritis usually develops gradually. It typically becomes a chronic condition, a kind of “background noise” that rarely resolves completely. With treatment, the pain of arthritis can often be brought under control. Even so, pain may continue to come and go, and its duration may vary.

Diagnosing Lumbar Arthritis and Lumbar Arthritis Symptoms

There are many possible injuries of the lower back, and the first aim of treatment is to clearly identify the cause of pain. Sometimes this is a complicated task. Arthritis may coexist with other conditions, such as lumbar disk herniation, sciatica, or degenerative disk disease. Spinal stenosis, in which the space in the spinal canal narrows due to the effects of arthritis, is a related condition.

True low back pain is located between the lower rib cage and the buttocks. This pain may occasionally extend down to the level of the knee but usually not beyond. Back pain associated with leg pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs is a sign of compression or irritation of the nerve roots of the spine.

Your doctor may do several different kinds of tests to determine whether you suffer from lumbar or lumbosacral arthritis. It is possible to have more than one type of arthritis at once. By means of various tests, your doctor can consider or rule out other causes of your symptoms, like injury or rheumatoid arthritis.

Your doctor will examine your spine and ask about your general health and any previous injuries, as well as ongoing conditions such as diabetes or a heart condition. X-rays show damage to the bones of the spine and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans may be used to confirm and locate soft tissue degeneration. Blood tests are used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis.

Treament of Lumbar Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis is a condition that sometimes flares up suddenly, often in relation to weather conditions or stress. It may require a short period of bed rest, with a return to moderate activity as soon as possible. While many people with chronic low back pain are tempted to habitually limit their physical activity, in the long run this is unwise.

Treatment for lumbar or lumbosacral arthritis focuses on controlling pain with the aim of helping you lead as normal and active a life as possible. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or other non-narcotics are commonly used to manage pain. Muscle relaxants may be prescribed occasionally but they should be used with caution, as the risk of dependency exists. Sometimes, in cases of extreme pain, a single treatment of a corticosteroid epidural is injected directly into the affected area.

Masking pain with strong medication may cause you to sprain or injure the back in some way through overexertion. For this reason, doctors recommend limiting the use of strong painkillers to episodes of severe pain, during brief periods when you are able to rest the back. In general, it is best to try to be active, using the lowest possible dose of pain medication.

Increased physical fitness can make a big difference when treating lumbar or lumbosacral arthritis, as it improves not only the condition of the back but also general health and well being. To achieve this, a guided exercise program should be implemented to build up muscle strength in the back and abdominal muscles. Your doctor or a physical therapist can recommend specific exercises to help you gradually increase the strength in your lumbar area.

It is also important to adequately manage or reduce your weight, as increased weight on the back causes stress on the vertebrae, making the arthritic condition worse. Some people may occasionally need assistive devices, such as a cane or walker, to help them get around.

Ultrasound, heat, ice, and massage have all proven to be of benefit when treating lumbar and lumbosacral arthritis. Some patients find that acupuncture offers relief.


Surgery for Lumbar Arthritis

Surgical procedures for lumbar and lumbosacral arthritis are relatively rare. Still, they may be considered in the event that conservative therapy does not bring about sufficient pain relief. Open surgery, using general anesthesia, may be recommended for selected patients. A technique known as a laminectomy is often used in cases of spinal stenosis –- a condition related to arthritis of the spine -- to widen the area available to the spinal cord. Sometimes, to stabilize the lumbar region, two or more vertebrae are fused together. Surgical procedures may include removing bony spurs and removing ruptured disks pressing on nerves.

Any form of surgery on the spine is a serious undertaking, and should be considered only on the advice of an experienced orthopedic surgeon. A neurosurgeon should also be consulted, especially if symptoms include pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.


Possible Complications of Lumbar Arthritis Surgery

Outcomes of surgery for lumbar or lumbosacral arthritis are dependent on the state of one’s general health, including mental and emotional health. It is important to work with your doctor to decide on the most effective treatment procedures, evaluating and comparing the risks of surgery with the expected benefits.

The use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, including mind-altering drugs, muscle relaxants, antihypertensives, tranquilizers, sleep inducers, insulin, sedatives, beta-adrenergic blockers, and corticosteroids, increases surgical risk.

Although surgery for lumbar or lumbosacral arthritis is usually without any significant problems, there may be occasional unforeseen complications associated with anesthesia, including respiratory or cardiac malfunction. The surgery itself may be complicated by infection, injury to nerves and blood vessels, fracture, weakness, stiffness or instability of the joint, pain, or the need for additional surgeries.

Surgery should always be undertaken when the patient is in the best possible health, with any other chronic conditions under effective management. Follow your surgeon’s directions carefully before and after any surgical procedure, keeping in mind that recovery depends not on surgery alone but also on commitment to the rehabilitation process.


Living with Lumbar Arthritis

People with lumbar or lumbosacral arthritis are advised to become educated about caring for their backs: using proper lifting techniques, practicing a specific set of stretching and strengthening exercises, and modifying their activities to protect the backbone. All of these measures may significantly reduce the chance of increased injury to the spine.


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This web site is intended for your own informational purposes only. No person or entity associated with this web site purports to be engaging in the practice of medicine through this medium. The information you receive is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other health care professional. If you have an illness or medical problem, contact your health care provider.

Arthritis can develop as a result of an infection. For example, bacteria that cause gonorrhea or Lyme disease can cause arthritis. Infectious arthritis can cause serious damage, but usually clears up completely with antibiotics. Scleroderma is a systemic disease that involves the skin, but may include problems with blood vessels, joints, and internal organs. Fibromyalgia syndrome is soft-tissue rheumatism that doesn't lead to joint deformity, but affects an estimated 5 million Americans, mostly women. The approximate number of cases in the United States of some common forms of arthritis. is an informational out reach of the Consumer Health Information Network. It is our goal to provide up to date information about arthritis and other inflammatory and bone conditions in a easy to understand format.

Where we get our information.

Most of the information in the site is compiled by editors from information provided by the National Institutes of Health. We are in the process of updating our pages. In the past we have not made reference to the source for information provide by our editors. In the next few weeks we hope to have all our pages marked as to the source.

We have included information from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Pages that uses information from this source are so acknowledged.

We have contributing authors that send information. Where information is provided by an outside author it is acknowledged by a byline under the title.

Updates of Pages.

Not all of our pages have a date as to the last update. We are in the processes of reviewing all our pages and as we do we include a reference as to when the page was updated. This web site was first published in January of 2003. All pages in the site were created at sometime during or after that time.