Oh, back pain! Nearly everyone suffers from it at some point in their life. However, back pain can become a serious problem when it is chronic. What if it is caused by osteoarthritis? Pinpointing the cause of back pain can greatly help in better managing it, as well as to prevent it.

When osteoarthritis affects the spine

Osteoarthritis is a condition that results from damage to the cartilage within the joints. Cartilage is an important component in joints, since it is smooth and covers the ends of the bones. The bones within the joint can then “slide” against each other, which promotes easy, fluid movements. When the cartilage is worn down, and its quality is impaired, the bones rub together, which results in an inflammatory process and joint pain.

In the spine, the cartilage is found in structures called “intervertebral discs”. They look like small cushions and are located between two vertebrae, absorbing shocks when the body is in action. Their quality and correct positioning are essential to the health of the spine and back.

Osteoarthritis is linked to aging, since the body’s ability to regenerate tissues fades with age, and cartilage is not spared by this phenomenon… However, osteoarthritis can affect people of all ages. Trauma or bad posture adopted on a daily basis can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis of the back. Being overweight is also a major risk factor, since it increases the pressure on the intervertebral discs.

What are the early signs of osteoarthritis in the back?

It is possible to act before joint pain linked to osteoarthritis becomes too severe and causes serious discomfort in daily activities.

To do this, attention must be paid to the following manifestations of pain, which are associated with the two main categories of osteoarthritis affecting the back:

  • Lumbar osteoarthritis: The pain is generally in the lower back, but it can extend to the buttocks, groin and the back of the thighs. The pain may radiate to the lower legs and feet.
  • Cervical osteoarthritis: Pain is felt in the neck, shoulders and upper and middle back (thoracic region). The pain can radiate into the upper limbs, and it is not uncommon for people who suffer from cervical osteoarthritis to be affected by frequent headaches.

The following signs can also predict the presence of these types of osteoarthritis:

  • Thoracic, lumbar or cervical stiffness, which makes it more difficult to adopt good postures. Movements can also be limited by stiffness.
  • Increased stiffness after prolonged periods of inactivity. Indeed, symptoms and pain are usually more intense when getting out of bed or after sitting for several minutes.
  • Cracking sensations in the spine. Noises similar to “POP” may be heard. This usually happens when the trunk is bent forward or the back is hyperextended.

How to take care of it?

If you notice the presence of lumbar and cervical pain, do not wait to act. Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, joint pain can be partially prevented by adopting certain habits and through various approaches.

Firstly, in the case of lumbar or cervical osteoarthritis, it is beneficial to perform muscle strengthening exercises, as well as stretching. Stronger, more relaxed muscles can better withstand the pressure on the spine. A physiotherapist can prescribe exercises adapted to the condition of each person.

In the case of lumbar or cervical osteoarthritis, special attention must also be paid to the posture of the back, neck and shoulders. Indeed, poor posture creates imbalances within the spine, which may exacerbate the wear and tear of the cartilage that makes up the intervertebral discs, thus increasing pain. Complementary approaches, such as chiropractics, can help correct poor posture.