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Low Back Range of Motion Exercise for Spinal Arthritis

Tips for Improving Low Back Flexibility When You Have Spinal Arthritis


Updated May 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The supine spinal twist is a yoga pose that should be approached carefully by those with back pain.

The supine spinal twist is a yoga pose that should be approached carefully by those with back pain.

Barry Stone

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. (Cartilage is a softer-than-bone substance that provides lining and cushioning in the joint space; the joint space is the area between the two bones that comprise the joint.)

When osteoarthritis progresses, your cartilage may erode entirely so that bone moves on bone as you go about your usual routine. And I know I don’t have to tell you how excruciating that can be.

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."

What Can You Do for Spinal Arthritis Pain in Your Low Back?

There’s no real cure for osteoarthritis. Treatment is generally focused on pain relief, slowing the progression of the condition, controlling inflammation in the joints and improving your ability to do what you like to do.

Treatment can be individually tailored to your needs, and often a multi-pronged treatment approach is taken. While different types of modalities are usually included in a treatment plan for spinal arthritis (such as taking medication, going for physical therapy and using joint protection aids), you must not ignore the importance of exercise in your daily life.

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