What is it: Lumbar arthritis is a degenerative condition that develops over time in response to the normal demands that are placed on the five lumbar vertebrae. It is symptomatic to varying degrees in different individuals and is a significant cause of disability.
Important Facts: With age, the intervertebral disks begin to lose their elasticity and hydration. This loss of elasticity decreases the ability of a disk to handle the weight it must bear. The disks become shorter which changes the position of the vertebrae and their associated connecting fibers in relation to the rest of the spine. Over time, a situation develops whereby bone lays directly on bone, causing pain and decreasing range of motion.
Statistics: Low back pain is extremely common affecting 60-90% of the population.
Treatment Duration: Lumbar arthritis is usually responsive to conservative management. During an acute attack of low back pain, relative rest that avoids activities that aggravates the symptoms may reduce inflammation. For long term relief, lifestyle modification must be undertaken. Weight loss when appropriate will have a tremendous impact on back pain because it is the lumbar spine that bears the weight of the body. Exercise is also critical and can help reduce weight and increase muscle strength to support the lower back.
Common Myths: Myth: Bad Back Pain Can Result in Paralysis
Fact: The spinal cord ends in the upper part of the low back (lumbar 1). Further down the low back there are only nerve roots, which are very tough structures. In most cases, a great deal of back pain does not usually indicate a back problem that could lead to paralysis.
Myth: Severe Back Pain Correlates to the Level of Back Damage
Fact: With acute pain, the level of pain correlates to the level of damage (e.g. if you touch a hot iron, you will immediately feel a great deal of pain). However, with chronic back pain (greater than 6 weeks), the amount of pain does not typically correlate the amount of damage.