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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 has gone from uncomfortable to debilitating.

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

Getting up every morning shouldn’t be this hard. Tired of your stiff back keeping you from doing the things you love?

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

Keep reading to find out how physical therapy for back arthritis can help you get back to enjoying life.


What is Back Arthritis?

Arthritis can affect any joint. The joint can either have inflammation (osteoarthritis) or degeneration (rheumatoid arthritis). 

It’s a disease that can keep you from enjoying life to the fullest.

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

While you can’t reverse your arthritis, you can improve your symptoms with treatment. We’ll talk later about how back arthritis and physical therapy go hand in hand.

3 Causes of Back Arthritis

#1: The Aging Process

As your body ages, the fluid that lubricates your joints — called synovial fluid — can become inflamed. This makes it harder to move as 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.

#2: 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 may occur even after a significant period of time post-injury.

#3: 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 diseases doesn’t guarantee that you will get arthritis, but your chances will go up significantly.

Back Arthritis Symptoms

If you have back arthritis, you may experience a range of symptoms that make everyday tasks very difficult.

In most cases, back arthritis affects the lower back, or lumbar, region.

The symptoms range from mild to severe and include:

  • Back pain
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Swelling around the affected vertebrae
  • Tenderness
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Nerve pain or numbness

Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of these symptoms.

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 physical therapy exercises for lower back arthritis.

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 swelling and tenderness around the arthritic vertebrae.

While this symptom is not the most common, it can interfere with daily activities and cause a great deal of discomfort.

As inflammation sets in, the area can swell. This causes tenderness due to pressure on the spine.

Nerve Pain or Numbness

As arthritis causes joints to break down, bone spurs can form. These 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.

3 Methods of Back Arthritis Treatment

There is no cure for arthritis, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in constant pain or have limited mobility. You don’t have to accept your symptoms as unavoidable.

Let’s explore some of the treatments doctors offer to minimize the symptoms and lessen the effects of arthritis.

#1: Prescribed Exercises

Movement begets movement.

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

Using prescribed physical therapy for arthritis in the back 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 to take pressure off joints

Not all physical therapy exercises for back arthritis are created equal. 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 trained professional to guide you can also prevent further injury.

#2: Aquatic Therapy

Who doesn’t love to play in the water?

Aquatic therapy is great for arthritis. It can help 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%.

If you have pain or lack range of motion, aquatic therapy may be for you.

#3: Over-The-Counter Medications

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

These medications are used to treat:

  • Inflammation
  • Mild to moderate pain; and
  • Fever

Medication can help temporarily relieve discomfort, but it doesn’t provide a lasting solution.

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

Can Physical Therapy Help Arthritis in the Back?

In short: YES!

Physical therapy is a very effective arthritis back pain treatment.

A licensed physical therapist, like the ones at In Motion O.C., can teach you physical therapy exercises for lower back arthritis 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 — not the joints — to do the work. Stronger muscles will help you move with less pain and discomfort.

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

Top 3 Physical Therapy Exercises for Back Arthritis

#1: Stretching

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

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.

#2: Tai Chi

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

There is very little stress on the joints during tai chi poses, making it perfect for those with back arthritis.

#3: Core Building

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

Whether you’re doing planks, modified crunches, or side bends, it’s 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.

In Motion O.C. Can Help You With Physical Therapy for Arthritis in the Back


Having arthritis in your back can be painful and frustrating.

But you don’t 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 — as they have with 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.

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

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.

In Motion O.C.