Does osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine cause chronic low back pain?

Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2004 Feb;6(1):14-9. doi: 10.1007/s11926-004-0079-z.


The lumbar spine is a common location for osteoarthritis. The axial skeleton demonstrates the same classic alterations of cartilage loss, joint instability, and osteophytosis characteristic of symptomatic disease in the appendages. Despite these similarities, questions remain regarding the lumbar spine facet joints as a source of chronic back pain. The facet joints undergo a progression of degeneration that may result in pain. The facet joints have sensory input from two spinal levels that makes localization of pain difficult. Radiographic studies describe intervertebral disc abnormalities in asymptomatic individuals that are associated with, but not synonymous for, osteoarthritis. Patients who do not have osteoarthritis of the facet joints on magnetic resonance scan do not have back pain. Single photon emission computed tomography scans of the axial skeleton are able to identify painful facet joints with increased activity that may be helped by local anesthetic injections. Low back pain is responsive to therapies that are effective for osteoarthritis in other locations. Osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine does cause low back pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Low Back Pain / etiology*
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / anatomy & histology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / innervation
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Osteoarthritis / complications*
  • Osteoarthritis / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteoarthritis / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon
  • Zygapophyseal Joint* / anatomy & histology
  • Zygapophyseal Joint* / innervation
  • Zygapophyseal Joint* / physiopathology