Osteoarthritis (OA) of the spine is a degenerative condition in which the cartilage that cushions and protects the spine’s facet joints wears down, causing stiffness and pain.  This disorder can also result in compression of nerves, which causes pain as well. However, it is possible for older adults to have OA in the spine, but no symptoms to alert them to the fact.


Osteoarthritis of the spine happens over time and typically affects the older population. While there may be a genetic component to the disease, it tends to be more common among women over the age of 45.  People who are overweight are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, In addition, people are at an increased risk if their occupations or sports activities put repetitive stress on the spine. Younger people, 45 years and below, can develop this condition due to hereditary cartilage disease or traumatic injury.


The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis of the spine include stiffness and/or pain in the back or neck.  In severe cases, the spinal nerves or the spinal chord may be affected. It can cause cause weakness and/or numbness in the legs or arms depending on the site of inflammation.  Individuals may experience relief when lying down. People whose lives have become limited by chronic spine or neck pain can develop depression over time.


Osteoarthritis of the spine is diagnosed through physical examination and diagnostic testing. X-rays can reveal the extent of bone damage, areas of lost cartilage or disc matter and the presence of bone spurs. MRI tests can show damaged soft tissue and the narrowing of space where the spinal nerves exit the joints.

There is no treatment to reverse the effects of osteoarthritis of the spine. However, studies have shown that some level of physical activity can aid in pain management. Moreover, physical therapy followed by a regular exercise program can relieve the pain and restore function.  Exercise can help manage a healthy weight to reduce pressure on the spine. It also improves blood flow and releases natural painkillers called endorphins.  Aerobic activities such as swimming or walking and those that promote flexibility and strength, such as yoga, are usually recommended.  However, is important to consult with a spine specialist to learn which exercises are appropriate for your individual condition.