Personalized treatments for people with back pain and spine disorders
Published: Feb. 14, 2008
Updated: Nov. 17, 2010
Osteoarthritis is degenerative arthritis that can cause a breakdown of the cartilage between the facet joints of the spine.
Facet joints are the places where the posterior parts of the bones in your spine (vertebrae) touch each other. There are little bits of cartilage at the points of contact. When the cartilage breaks down, there is more friction with movement.
This is a degenerative condition that occurs with age.
During the early part of the day, the pain may be minimal due to the buildup of fluid in the joints. As more stress is applied to the spine and its joints throughout the day, pain tends to increase. The pain may be localized around one joint/vertebra or several levels, causing pain in the entire lower back, for example.
X-rays and a physical exam will show your doctor if there is any deterioration in the joints.
Conservative approaches are the first step in treating osteoarthritis. This can include anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, and physical therapy. Stretching exercises for the hamstrings, hip joints, and back have been shown to be helpful, as has water therapy, which provides a nearly weightless environment for exercise.
Steroid injections (called facet injections) may be used to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis if the conservative treatment proves ineffective.
A spinal fusion is sometimes recommended to treat this condition. This surgery involves placing a piece of bone at the back of the spine which, when healed, will fuse two or more vertebrae together. This stabilizes the spine and eliminates movement at the painful joints. Metal rods and screws may be used to hold the vertebrae in place.