Osteoarthritis commonly occurs in load-bearing joints, such as your hips or knees. But it can also occur in your lumbar spine, which in turn causes pain and stiffness.

See Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Lumbar osteoarthritis is a common cause of back pain in older adults. Watch: Lumbar Osteoarthritis Video

When this occurs, it is referred to as lumbar osteoarthritis. The video walk-through below can provide you with a helpful overview of this relatively common condition.


Video highlights

Paired facet joints (pictured in purple above) are located on the back of each vertebra in your lumbar spine. These joints enable movement in your spine, including twisting and bending, and they also provide stability. The opposing surfaces of your facet joints are covered with cartilage, which minimizes friction.

See Facet Joint Osteoarthritis

Over time, the cartilage between your facet joints can break down as a result of age, repetitive motion, or injury.

See Facet Joint Disorders and Back Pain

With less (or no) cartilage to protect the opposing surfaces of your facet joints, friction is increased and your bones may rub against one another.

This friction can damage your bones, resulting in decreased motion and an increase in inflammation.

Symptoms of lumbar osteoarthritis

Typical symptoms of lumbar osteoarthritis include pain and stiffness in your lumbar spine (lower back). You may also experience muscle spasms in your back as your muscles work to stabilize your spine.

Watch: Causes of Back Muscle Spasms Video

As a response to your joint instability, bone spurs may also form (pictured above). These spurs can irritate or compress nearby nerves in your spine.

See Bone Spur Causes

In turn, this nerve compression or irritation can lead to symptoms of radiating nerve pain.

See Lumbar Radiculopathy


If you suspect you have lumbar osteoarthritis, the first step is to schedule an appointment with your doctor; and she or he may refer you to a specialist.

See Diagnosis of Spinal Arthritis

In general, the physician who examines you will follow a 3-step process to test for lumbar osteoarthritis. First, she or he will take your medical history. Next, a physical examination will be conducted to test your strength and flexibility. Finally, medical imaging tests, such as an X-ray, may also be conducted.

See Introduction to Diagnostic Studies for Back and Neck Pain

Learn more:

Non-Surgical Osteoarthritis Treatments

Surgery for Osteoarthritis