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Physical Therapy for Back Arthritis – Information, Exercises, and More

You can’t move like you used to. The pain in your back went from uncomfortable to debilitating.

Or maybe you are frustrated by tingling and numbness in your arms or legs. You wish there was something you could do about it.

And getting up every morning shouldn’t be this hard. You are tired of having a stiff back keep you from doing the things you love.

Physical therapy and fitness coaching can help you regain motion and manage symptoms of back arthritis. 

We will show you how physical therapy for back arthritis can help you get back to enjoying life.

What is Back Arthritis?

Arthritis can affect any joint. Simplified, it just means that the joint has inflammation (osteoarthritis) or degeneration (rheumatoid arthritis). 

The disease can keep you from enjoying life to the fullest. 

Arthritis of the back or neck is called spinal osteoarthritis. It is estimated that more than 45% of the population will experience back arthritis in their lifetime. If you have it, you are certainly not alone.

While you can’t reverse your arthritis, you can improve your symptoms with treatment.

What Causes Back Arthritis?

If you have been diagnosed with, or think you may have arthritis in your back, you may be wondering, ‘what causes this inflammation and degeneration’?

The truth is, it is most commonly the result of the aging process. 

There are other causes, but most people experience arthritis as a sign of the body wearing out with age.

That doesn’t mean you’re old. It just means that your body is showing signs of the life it has lived so far.

You may also experience arthritis as a result of injury or a degenerative disease.

Whatever the cause, there are treatment options available.

Aging Process

You aren’t as young as you once were. The truth is, none of us are.

As your body ages, the fluid that lubricates your joints, called synovial fluid, can become inflamed. This makes it harder to move because our joints get stiff.

Repetitive use is another cause of back arthritis that accompanies age. Completing the same motion over and over can cause the joint to wear out.

Injury or Trauma

Suffering an injury to your back, such as in a sports or auto accident, can create scar tissue.

That scar tissue can cause arthritis that restricts joint movement and causes stiffness and pain.

Arthritis can occur after a significant period of time post-injury.

Degenerative Disease

Some diseases cause the body to break down prematurely. These are known as degenerative diseases.

A few degenerative diseases that can cause arthritis include:

Having one of these does not guarantee that you will have arthritis, but your chances go up significantly due to the nature of the disease.

Back Arthritis Symptoms

If you have back arthritis, you may experience a range of symptoms. These symptoms can make everyday tasks, such as getting dressed or walking to get the mail, very difficult.

In most cases, back arthritis affects the lower back, referred to as the lumbar region.

The symptoms range from mild to severe:

  • Back pain
  • Stiffness 
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Swelling around the affected vertebrae
  • Tenderness
  • Weakness or fatigue affected your whole body
  • Numbness or nerve pain (if the joints are causing pressure on the spinal cord)

Back Pain and Stiffness

While back pain is a common symptom, not everyone with back arthritis experiences it.

Stiffness, which occurs as the joint hardens, is a frequent complaint among those with back arthritis. It can hinder you from doing simple activities, such as gardening or getting dressed. 

Both of these symptoms can be helped significantly with exercise and physical therapy.

Increasing your flexibility and range of motion can help lessen the pain. Your physical therapist can achieve this with targeted movements that strengthen the muscles and take pressure off your joints.

Swelling and Tenderness

Some people experience tenderness and swelling around the arthritic vertebrae. 

While this symptom is not the most common, for those who experience it, swelling and tenderness can interfere with daily activities and cause a great deal of discomfort.

As inflammation sets in, the area can swell. This can cause a feeling of tenderness because of pressure being put on the spine. 

Nerve Pain or Numbness

As the joint breaks down due to arthritis, bone spurs can form. These bone spurs can come in contact with nerves in the spinal column and cause pain, tingling, and numbness in other areas.

You may not notice these sensations all the time, but they can become problematic when doing even the most basic activities, like bending over to tie your shoes, or reaching up to get something from the top shelf.

Back Arthritis Treatment

You don’t have to accept these symptoms as unavoidable.

There is no cure for arthritis, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be in constant pain or have limited mobility.

Doctors can offer you a variety of treatments to minimize the symptoms and lessen the effects of arthritis. 

Some common treatments include:

  • Prescribed exercises
  • Aquatic therapy
  • Over-the-counter pain medication and anti-inflammatories
  • Hot or cold compresses

Prescribed Exercises 

Movement begets movement.

If you are experiencing pain or stiffness, gentle movement can help improve your symptoms.

Using prescribed physical movement as arthritis treatment for lower back pain can strengthen the muscles around the affected joints and increase flexibility to restore range of motion.

There are many benefits to exercising if you have arthritis, such as:

  • More flexibility
  • Improved blood flow
  • Better mood and overall outlook
  • Joint lubrication to ease movement
  • Weight loss that can take some pressure off of the joints

Not all exercises are created equal when it comes to improving back arthritis symptoms. A physical therapist or fitness coach, like the professionals at In Motion O.C., can help you form an exercise treatment plan that targets your specific symptoms. 

Having a highly trained professional to guide you can prevent further injury.

Aquatic Therapy

Who doesn’t love to play in the water? 

Aquatic therapy is great if you have arthritis. It can help you strengthen your muscles while relieving pressure in your joints.

Being in the water can reduce the weight load on your joints by up to 90 percent.

If you suffer from pain or lack range of motion, aquatic therapy may be your ticket to movement with less pain.

Over-the-Counter Medications

For mild pain, many doctors recommend over-the-counter medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. 

These medications are used to treat:

  • Inflammation
  • Mild to moderate pain; and
  • Fever

Medication can help temporarily relieve discomfort, but they do not provide a lasting solution. 

Most medications also have side effects and can cause damage to internal organs with excessive or long term use.

Back Arthritis Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

In short: YES!

Physical therapy is very effective arthritis back pain treatment.

A licensed physical therapist, like the ones at In Motion OC, can teach you how to perform movements that can relieve your symptoms and get you back on your feet.

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek professional help from a physical therapist.

Strengthening the muscles around the vertebrae allows the muscles to do the work—not the joints. Stronger muscles will help you move with less pain and discomfort.

Physical therapy is crucial to reducing the symptoms of back arthritis.

Best Back Arthritis Exercises

Exercise comes in many forms. Whether you have back arthritis or are perfectly healthy, exercise can improve your quality of life.

If you have a physical ailment or disease, such as arthritis in your back, you can find exercises that are both enjoyable and beneficial to your condition.


If you have muscle stiffness in your back, stretching can loosen your muscles and help you move with more ease.

There are a variety of stretches you can do, but commonly targeted areas include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower Back
  • Abs

Stretching these muscles can help reduce strain on your back and improve your posture.

Tai Chi

Gentle movement may be best if you suffer from moderate to severe back arthritis. Tai Chi offers slow, smooth motion without strain or added weight.

Unlike Yoga, Tai Chi offers continuous, gentle movements. There is very little stress on the joints during these fighting poses, making it perfect for those suffering from back arthritis.

Core Building

Strong core muscles help you maintain good posture. If you suffer from back arthritis, building your core can help to improve symptoms and lessen your pain.

Whether you are doing planks, modified crunches, or side bends, it is a good idea to consult a physical therapist or personal trainer to learn how to do the exercises correctly. This will prevent injury or further stress on your back.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Back Arthritis

Having arthritis in your back can be painful, frustrating, and make you feel alone in your suffering. 

You do not have to face back arthritis alone.

You deserve specialized care and the best treatments available. 

Let the excellent staff of physical therapists and personal trainers at In Motion O.C. help you like they have thousands of others.

We offer personalized treatment options, state of the art facilities, and a caring staff that will make you feel like the high-priority patient you are.

You don’t have to take our word for it, you can trust us as the number one rated physical therapist in the nation according to users on Yelp.

Call us today to make an appointment and take “back” your life.

*This information about physical therapy for back arthritis was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.