Lumbar osteoarthritis refers most commonly to age-related degeneration in the back, characterized by disc degeneration and facet arthritis. This degeneration can result in lumbar stenosis, which is narrowing of the spinal canal, with resultant pressure on the nerves that pass through the canal. Pressure on the nerves in turn can result in lumbar radiculopathy, as well as back pain from the degenerative changes.
Lumbar arthritis most often begins in the 4th and 5th decades of life and is most likely to affect L4-5.
Lumbar arthritis typically causes back pain and can cause leg symptoms (including pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness). These symptoms can vary dramatically, causing some people to be quite debilitated while others can continue with their daily activities. Additionally, the symptoms may vary with time, where flare ups can last for several weeks to months and then improve with time.
In rare cases, when the nerves are severely pinched by arthritis, patients will experience signs and symptoms of cauda equina, which is often a surgical emergency. This is characterized by intense back and leg pain, weakness in the legs, numbness in the groin and buttock area, and difficulties with bowel and bladder function. If you experience these symptoms go to an emergency room immediately.
X-rays show bones and are the best way to evaluate arthritis. At times they will show narrowing of a disc space level or instability that may suggest pinched nerves.
With persistent back and leg symptoms that are unbearable or have lasted longer than a month, an MRI is often necessary. MRI scans, unlike x-rays, have the ability to illustrate lumbar arthritis and pinched nerves.
Lumbar arthritis may be prevented by avoiding the following: improper lifting, excessive body weight, repetitive strenuous activity, and smoking. However, many of the contributing factors are due to age and genetics and are not preventable.