About.com—November 11, 2011
If you have spinal arthritis in your low back, I probably don’t have to tell you how painful and limiting it can be.
Osteoarthritis (anywhere in the body) starts with erosion of the cartilage in joints.
When osteoarthritis progresses, your cartilage may erode entirely so that bone moves on bone as you go about your usual routine.
But that’s not all.
Spinal Changes and Spinal Arthritis
Breakdown and erosion of cartilage quite often leads to the joint changing its shape. This is due to a process known as bone remodeling, says Hagit Rajter, clinical physical therapist at the Joint Mobility Center, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City. Bone remodeling may cause bone spurs and cysts to form at the edges of bones.
The low back is particularly affected when there is osteoarthritis in the spine. This is because the low back takes the day-to-day mechanical stresses of most of your body weight, says Rajter. "The excess pressure on the low back that results in strain and irritated spinal joints already damaged by arthritis can greatly amplify the pain," she says, adding that generally the facet joints and spinal discs are most affected. (The disc loses height.)
Rajter also notes that research supports the premise that osteoarthritis in your low back may affect your balance, along with your hip functioning and core strength. These ability-decreases will most likely make it more difficult to perform your usual activities at the level at which you may be accustomed. They also make it harder to exercise. "These are the indirect consequences of spinal arthritis," Rajter says. "They are not the disease, but they sure have an impact on it."
Motivation to Exercise When You're in Pain
Fitness and exercise programs generally consist of cardio, strength training and activities to increase your joint range of motion. Of these, the joint range-of-motion work may deserve much of your focus. Rajter says that range-of-motion exercises may interrupt the vicious cycle of stiffness, immobility, joint changes and pain often associated with arthritis.
For a basic low-back, range-of-motion program that’s safe, but not particularly aggressive, Rajter recommends three exercises, described below. She says that if you also have other medical conditions, or you have fitness goals you’d like to address without worsening your symptoms, you should make an appointment with a physical therapist for an evaluation and home exercise program.
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