man having a backache

Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is a disease where the protective cartilage cushioning the bones wears down or degenerates. That causes friction between the bones when they move, which results in pain and inflammation.

Spinal osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage of the discs and joints in the neck and lower back degenerates. Sometimes, that could produce spurs that exert pressure on the nerves in the spinal column, causing pain and weakness in the legs or arms.

Who Gets Osteoarthritis?

Generally, osteoarthritis happens as people become older. At the age of 45 and below, it commonly affects men. However, after 45 years, it commonly affects women.

Osteoarthritis is also common among people who are overweight and those who participate in sports or activities that exert repetitive stress on their joints.

What Causes Spine Osteoarthritis?

Spine osteoarthritis mainly happens because of gradual wear down of the cartilage around and between the joints in the lower back. While the main causes are not determined, some risk factors could increase your chances of getting spine osteoarthritis.

  • Spinal trauma, which could make the cartilage deteriorate at a faster rate.
  • Family history of osteoarthritis.
  • Defective cartilage or joints at birth.


  • Pain and stiffness in the back and neck. The stiffness mainly happens in the morning and could last for about 30 minutes.
  • Numbness and weakness in the arms or legs if the osteoarthritis affects the spinal cord itself or spinal nerves.
  • Joint tenderness and swelling around the affected joints.
  • Limited range of motion because of the pain and inflammation in the joints.
  • Grating sensation.
  • Bone spurs, which are extra bits of bones that feel like hard lumps around the affected area.


When you experience one or several of the symptoms and have some of the risk factors, you should visit your doctor for an examination. The doctor conducts a physical examination where they check for the limited range of motion, joint tenderness, and swelling around any joints.

They also ask you to describe some of the symptoms you experience, their severity, and their occurrence.

Additionally, there are several methods that the doctor can use to diagnose the disease, including:

  • X-rays – The doctor uses these to look for any bone damages, disc or cartilage loss, and bone spurs. X-rays are, however, not effective at diagnosing the disease at its early stages because they can’t detect early damages to the bones or cartilage.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – These indicate narrowing of places where the spinal nerves exits plus damages to the discs.
  • Blood tests – These are necessary to eliminate other diseases with similar symptoms.

On some occasions, the doctor may conduct a joint fluid analysis. To do that, the doctor uses a needle to collect a fluid sample from the affected joints. That helps determine the cause of some of your symptoms.


There is no way to permanently treat spine osteoarthritis since the disease is irreversible. The main aim of the treatment options given is to help alleviate the symptoms like pain and inflammation. They also help increase the mobility of the affected joints.

There are different treatment options that your doctor considers depending on the severity of your disease. Mild cases of osteoarthritis may respond to over-the-counter medications, but for some more severe cases, you may need further treatment options.

Some of the therapies and treatments that your doctor may consider include:

Gentle exercises

Exercises help in alleviating some of the symptoms that are caused or escalated by inactivity. Your doctor may break them down into strengthening aerobic and range-of-motion exercises.

Strengthening exercises help strengthen the muscles that support your joints. These exercises work via resistance with the help of rubber bands or weights.

Aerobic exercises help strengthen your heart and improve blood flow. Some of the recommended aerobic exercises include stationary cycling, walking, and swimming.

Range-of-motion exercises help increase your body flexibility and improve the movement of the affected joints. Some of the exercises you can do in this category include bending backward, forward, and sideways.

Cold or heat therapy

This treatment involves placing a heated or cold compress on the affected joints. This works by stimulating the healing force of your body.

Heat dilates your blood vessels and increases blood circulation, which then reduces muscle spasms. Heat also alters pain sensation. You can use either dry heat like heating pads or wet heat like hot moist clothes.

A cold compress, on the other hand, helps to reduce inflammation in the affected areas by constricting your blood vessels. They also help numb deep pain.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapists help you understand how to move your joints and not exert too much pressure and strain on them. They also explain how you can change your home or workplace to minimize motions that aggravate osteoarthritis symptoms.


Surgery is not a common treatment method for osteoarthritis because the doctor can treat most of those cases without it. However, sometimes the disease may spread to other areas or become severe.

The goals of surgery to treat osteoarthritis include decompressing your spinal cord. It also helps free up your nerve roots from the bone spurs that form and other tissues that might be exerting pressure on them.

Surgery also helps stabilize your spine by fusing a few segments through a procedure known as spinal fusing.

If you visit your spine surgeon in Mission Viejo CA, he/she may perform these procedures as either open procedures or using minimally invasive approaches.

Complications From The Disease

One of the main complications that come with spine osteoarthritis is bone spurs. They affect facet joints and make them grow larger, and cause a condition called facet joint hypertrophy.

While bone spurs may not cause any harm on their own, they might grow bigger and narrow the passages for the nerves exiting your spine and the spinal cord. That might result in 2 painful conditions.

Spinal stenosis, which is where the spinal cord is compressed inside the spinal canal.
Radiculopathy. This is the pinching of the peripheral nerves while exiting the spine. One common type of radiculopathy is known as sciatica.

The slow and gradual calcification of ligaments between the vertebrae known as Ankylosing spondylitis might result in additional complications like:

  • Kyphosis, a spinal deformity.
  • Collapsed vertebrae.
  • Stress fractures in locations where there is the formation of new bones.

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