The ability to walk and perform normal daily activities is paramount to maintaining independence. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, puts that independence at risk if inflammation and disc degeneration occur in the spine. Though there is no cure of degenerative joint disease, you can do exercises to help maintain mobility and strength in your spine.
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Osteoarthritis is first suspected with pain, tenderness and stiffness in the affected joints. Patients may lose flexibility in the lumbar region of the spine, experiencing grating sounds and a scraping feeling when walking, bending or twisting. The cause of osteoarthritis is dependent upon several different factors -- aside from aging, osteoarthritis is linked to joint injuries, muscle weakness, obesity and genetic predisposition.
Other factors that increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis in the lower back include previous sports injuries or birth defects in the affected joints. Certain types of jobs that require repetitive lifting or other lower back stress can increase your chances of osteoarthritis. Certain diseases increase risk as well. These include gout, rheumatoid arthritis and stenosis.
Proper diagnosis is done by your doctor through the aid of a patient history as well as the use of diagnostic imaging machines. Both X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging machines show the spinal joints. The images from these machines help diagnose bone spurts, degenerative discs and misalignment in the spine resulting from osteoarthritis, or other underlying conditions contributing to the degenerative condition. Consult your doctor to determine the best course of treatment and exercise program for your condition.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. The focus of treatment is to alleviate pain and reduce swelling where possible. Acetominophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and narcotic pain killers may be prescribed orally. Cortisone shots may be used periodically to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. These shots are limited because repetitive use can contribute to further degeneration.
Exercise gives preventative and therapeutic benefits to osteoarthritis patients. Because there is no cure, working out gives patients a sense of empowerment over the disease, according to G.C. Gardener, M.D. of the University of Washington Orthopaedices and Sports Medicine Center. Additionally, overweight patients may lose weight resulting from the exercise, reducing stress on the lower back. Patients can also build muscle strength, giving greater support in the spine to reduce compression and slow the progress of the disease.
Doctors recommend low-impact aerobic activities to maintain cardiovascular health, lose weight and maintain stamina without jarring or straining the back. Swimming, water aerobics, cycling and walking are highly recommended. Isometric exercises are recommended by Gardner to maintain joint musculature. Simple stretches such as bringing your knees to your chest maintain flexibility in the spine. A standing backward bend arches the back, opening up the mid- and lower back. Strengthening exercises include doing trunk raises. Trunk raises are done lying on your back and lifting your head and shoulder off the floor while keeping your core muscles contracted. Use an exercise ball to do crunches to strengthen the abdomen, further supporting the spine.