Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage between bones to break down, and occurs commonly in joints that carry our weight, such as the hips or knees. It can also occur in the small joints that make up the spine, causing back pain and stiffness.

See How Arthritis Causes Back Pain

When this occurs in the lumbar—or lower—portion of the spine, it is known as lumbar osteoarthritis.

See how osteoarthritis can target the joints of the spine, causing back pain and stiffness.
Lumbar Osteoarthritis Video

Our lumbar osteoarthritis video helps you visualize what's going on when you have lumbar osteoarthritis. Here are some highlights from the video.

Each vertebra of the spine has a pair of facet joints. They allow for movement in the spine, including twisting and bending, while also providing stability. In this image, the facet joints are highlighted in purple.

The surfaces of the facet joints are covered with cartilage, which reduces friction in the joint.

Read more: Spine Anatomy and Osteoarthritis

Over time, the cartilage of the facet joints can break down or erode away due to age, repetitive motion, or an injury.

See What Is Spinal Osteoarthritis (Facet Joint Arthritis)?


Once there's little or no cartilage left to protect the surfaces of the facet joints, friction increases and the bones can rub together.

This friction can cause damage to the bones, resulting in decreased mobility and inflammation.

Pain and stiffness in the lower back are the primary symptoms of lumbar osteoarthritis. Some may also experience muscle spasms in the back, as the muscles work to stabilize the spine.

Read more: Spinal Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Because of the instability of the joint, bumpy growths known as bone spurs may form. These can irritate or compress nearby nerves in the spine.

The nerve irritation caused by the bone spurs and lead to radiating nerve pain.

If you suspect you have symptoms of lumbar osteoarthritis, contact your doctor and discuss your diagnosis and treatment options. Early intervention and lifestyle changes can help ease pain and increase range of motion.

See Spinal Osteoarthritis Treatment

Learn more:

Self Care and Exercise to Treat Spine Osteoarthritis

Spinal Osteoarthritis Risk Factors