Osteoarthritis (OA) affects approximately 27 million Americans. It’s a debilitating, age-related, degenerative joint disease caused by breakdown or deterioration of the cartilage (the smooth, elastic tissue that provides lubrication and protects your joints). Arthritis pain can make you feel helpless, hopeless, and generally frustrated.
The good thing is that there are self-care steps and natural remedies you can add to your medical regimen that will help you relieve arthritis pain, specifically in the back. While osteoarthritis can affect many areas of the body, including the hands, knees, and hips, arthritis pain in the back is an extremely common occurrence.
Spinal osteoarthritis affects the facet joints, the spinal ligaments, and the cartilage between the backbones. Cartilage breaks down naturally as you age, and the intervertebral discs are made up primarily of water that dries up slowly over time, which can cause the discs to narrow and put more pressure on your joints.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware of the symptoms of arthritis pain, including:
- Stiffness in the joints
- Limited range of motion
- Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
- Tingling in the arms or legs
- Tenderness around the joints
Causes of Spinal Osteoarthritis
As unfair as it is, the most common cause of this degenerative condition is age. The cartilage surrounding the joints deteriorates over time, so it’s natural to see how age is the biggest risk factor. Other risk factors for arthritis pain include:
- Spine trauma
- Gender (being a woman puts you at higher risk)
- Working in a field that requires repetitive stress on joints
- Defective joints at childbirth
- A family history of OA
It’s easy to put the discomfort aside in the beginning, but it’s very important not to ignore risk factors and symptoms of osteoarthritis, especially if you’re experiencing back pain that interferes with your daily activities. Putting it on the back burner can lead to long-term disability and extreme discomfort.
Treatments for Osteoarthritis
Treatment will always vary depending on your needs, symptoms, and what your physician believes to be the best course of action. Sadly, there is no cure and no way to reverse the effects of osteoarthritis, but there are ways to relieve symptoms and improve the mobility of your affected joints. Possible treatments for this condition, especially for spinal osteoarthritis include:
- Taking over-the-counter medications like Advil, Tylenol, and Motrin
- Antidepressants that also treat chronic pain
- Steroid injections in the joints
- Surgical replacement of the discs (only in severe cases)
Tips for Arthritis Pain
There are lifestyle changes and at-home remedies you can use to help relieve some of the pain associated with spinal osteoarthritis. It’s important to work closely with your doctor or physical therapist to determine the best course of action for your condition.
Download the PDF infographic. Let’s elaborate on some of those arthritis pain tips!
Tai Chi is one of the best exercise regimes you can do for your body. Movements are slow and deliberate, fluid, and always synchronized. It helps improve the body’s alignment, strength, flexibility, posture, balance, and stamina. It also helps you focus on slow, rhythmical breathing, which relaxes the muscles and improves circulation. Because of the meditative nature of the exercise, it helps people cope with stress and alleviate anxiety as well.
Heat or Cold Therapy
Studies have shown that consistent application of low-level heat (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for 8 hours at a time can significantly relieve arthritis pain in the back, especially the acute kind that comes on suddenly during a flare-up. Cold compresses are also a good option, as they can help reduce inflammation. Use cold compresses for 15-20 minutes at a time.
Your doctor or PT can help you find a healthy exercise regimen that includes low-impact aerobics, back strengthening, and range of motion exercises. Strengthening the back is going to be crucial to treating arthritis pain in the back. Strong muscles support the back muscles and relieve pressure. Some exercises you may want to talk to start include:
- Knees-to-Chest stretch: Lie on your back and pull one knee toward your chest using your hands. Don’t force it. Hold the position for 15 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
- Cat-Cow stretch: On your hands and knees, gently arch your back like a cat, pushing your belly forward and looking up to the ceiling. Hold for a breath, then slowly bend your back forward, bringing your belly inward and relaxing your neck to look at your knees.
- Gentle spine twist: Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, press your shoulder blades to the floor and gently roll both knees to one side. Hold that position for 15 seconds and then roll the knees to the other side. Do this 3-5 times, or as often as you’re comfortable.
Weight loss is most beneficial if you have weight to lose; however, if you don’t have much weight to lose, you should still aiming for a diet that has plenty of anti-inflammatory foods like:
- Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, and trout)
- Tart cherry juice
- Olive oil
While you can expect plenty of discomfort, especially upon waking in the morning, moderate or severe arthritis pain in the back is a cause for concern. That’s a sign that you need to rest the muscles. Take a couple of hours to lie in the fetal position on a firm mattress to help relieve the pain.
Nobody likes making lifestyle changes. It means teaching yourself new tricks, and that’s very difficult to do; however, when you have arthritis pain, especially in the back, it’s important to avoid activities that cause stress on the affected joints. Therefore, no heavy lifting, bending at the waist or twisting (if the pain is in the lumbar region), and avoid putting heavy pressure on the shoulders if your pain is in the upper back or neck region.
Some devices can help you stabilize the muscles in the back and take pressure off the affected joints. These include:
- Back braces
- Shoe inserts
- Firm mattresses
- Supportive sleeping pillows
- Ergonomic furniture
Stress heightens your discomfort, so learning coping mechanisms to avoid chronically high levels of stress, including journaling, deep breathing exercises, meditation, coloring, talking to a counselor, and guided imagery, can help you better cope with the pain and discomfort.
Osteoarthritis can feel like a tragic diagnosis, and may patients go through a period of depression after learning of their condition. While it’s okay to feel sad and frustrated, you don’t want to stay in that state of mind, or the condition will worsen much faster. There are measures you can take to alleviate the pain and improve your quality of life. Spinal pain caused by arthritis in the back can be reduced by following these tips and working closely with your doctor to develop a safe and effective exercise regimen.