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News Letter

Lumbosacral Arthritis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments Print E-mail

Back pain is very common. How many times have you lifted something that was too heavy and felt the effects for days? Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability and loss of work in the United States. Arthritis is one possible cause of back pain.  

Lumbosacral arthritis or lumbar arthritis affects the lower back and pelvic area, causing pain, inflammation, and the loss of motion in those areas. People with lumbosacral arthritis should learn how to properly care for their backs. By using proper lifting techniques, practicing a specific set of stretching and strengthening exercises, and modifying activities to protect the backbone, people can reduce low back pain. These actions may reduce the chance of increased injury to the spine.

Causes of Lumbosacral Arthritis

 The exact cause of lumbar and lumbosacral arthritis is unknown. Some degeneration of the spine is thought to be the result of the normal aging process, but sometimes an old injury or a direct blow to the spine will play a role. Also, people whose occupations require heavy lifting, long periods of sitting or driving, or other repetitive pressures on the backbone are also at risk for arthritis in this part of the spine.

Beginning at about age 20, the discs of the spine begin to lose their elasticity and become dehydrated. The lumbar discs become less supple and lose some of their height. This alters the position of the vertebrae and the connecting ligaments, sometimes leading to tears in disk tissue. With lumbosacral arthritis, the normally soft discs between the vertebrae of the lower back gradually lose their elasticity and their ability to cushion the bones effectively.

Symptoms of Lumbosacral Arthritis

Pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints are the most common symptoms of all types of arthritis. With lumbosacral arthritis, the pain may be concentrated in the pelvic region or between the lower rib cage and buttocks.  Low back pain is associated with leg pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs. This pain is often more intense in the early morning or after periods of inactivity. Often it results in an altered gait or a change in posture. This can lead to pain in other weight-bearing joints such as the knee, hip and ankle.

Your doctor may do several different kinds of tests to determine whether you suffer from lumbosacral arthritis or another type of arthritis or disease. He or she will examine your spine and ask you for your medical history. Be sure to tell your doctor about any ongoing conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes and any old injuries. An X-ray may be ordered to look inside the bones of the spine. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans may be used to confirm or locate soft tissue degeneration. If your doctor suspects rheumatoid arthritis a blood test may be ordered.

Treatment of Lumbosacral Arthritis

With proper treatment, the pain associated with lumbosacral arthritis can be managed. Arthritis is chronic or long-term condition and you may find that the pain will come and go.

While many people with chronic low back pain are tempted to limit their physical activity, this is ill advised. You may find that you need to rest more frequently, but exercise should become part of your daily regimen. By increasing physical fitness, your back may become stronger and you may increase your overall feeling of well-being. You should work with your doctor or physical therapist on developing an exercise program designed to strengthen your lower back. You may also benefit from posture training.

Some people may occasionally need assistive devices, such as a cane or walker, to help them walk. Braces or corsets may be used to reduce the motion of the back. Sleeping on a firm mattress and sitting in a good chair with armrests and a high backrest are also advisable. Ultrasound, heat, ice, and massage can be helpful when treating lumbosacral arthritis.

Managing your weight is also very important when treating this type of arthritis. If you are above your ideal weight, you may be causing stress to your back and making your condition worse.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are commonly used to manage pain. With lower back pain, muscle relaxants may be prescribed occasionally but they should be used with caution, as the risk of dependency exists.  Sometimes, in cases of extreme pain, a single treatment of a corticosteroid epidural is injected directly into the affected area.

In rare cases, surgery may be necessary after conventional therapy fails to manage the pain. The decision is a tough one and needs to be carefully thought through after consulting with an orthopaedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon.

Surgery, using general anesthesia, may be recommended. A technique known as a laminectomy is often used in cases of spinal stenosis -- a condition related to arthritis of the spine -- to widen the area available to the spinal cord. Sometimes, to stabilize the lumbar region, two or more vertebrae are fused together. Surgical procedures may include removing bony spurs and removing ruptured discs pressing on nerves.

Your doctor can guide you in choosing the most appropriate treatment for your lumbosacral arthritis


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