Osteoarthritis is caused by a gradual breakdown of the cartilage in the facet joints in your spine. Over time, as this tissue wears, the affected areas can become stiff and inflamed. While the exact causes of osteoarthritis are unknown, a number of risk factors have been identified. Any of the following can contribute to your chances of developing osteoarthritis in your spine.

Aging

As you get older, your cartilage accumulates additional years of stress. While some people experience joint deterioration as young as age 30, most people find that it accelerates after age 50. Experts say that at least 50 percent of people over the age of 50 have some degree of arthritis.

Obesity

People who are overweight or obese have more stress on their facet joints. This, in turn, can cause a greater degree of wear. One of the most effective ways to decrease osteoarthritis pain is to reduce body weight.

Gender

While people of both sexes can get osteoarthritis, it is more common in women than in men. The gender disparity gets more pronounced as people get older, with postmenopausal women being at highest risk for osteoarthritis in the spine and in other areas.

Genetics

Researchers have known since the 1950s that some forms of osteoarthritis have a genetic component. A family history of arthritis or other joint disorders increases your risk of developing the disease, as well. At this time, researchers do not suspect that a specific pattern of Mendelian inheritance but rather that there are alterations to a number of genes.

Participation in certain sports

Sports such as football, hockey, rugby, tennis, running and martial arts can put strain on the joints. Over time, these sports may accelerate the degradation of cartilage in the affected areas. However, not everyone who participates in these sports will develop osteoarthritis. Researchers say that other risk factors must also be present.

Certain jobs

A number of jobs can put your joints at risk and make it more likely that you will develop osteoarthritis. These jobs include ones where you stand on your feet all day or repeatedly lift heavy loads. Ergonomic adjustments can help relieve some of the pressure, but many people do not realize the risk until some damage to cartilage has already been done.

Lifestyle habits

Both smoking and excessive drinking are associated with greater cartilage loss and more severe arthritis symptoms. Researchers believe that these habits may alter cells and make it harder for them to reproduce and replace themselves when cartilage is damaged.

Complications of arthritis

People who have osteoarthritis in the spine may develop worse symptoms because of complications. When the bones around the facet joints rub together, they may develop bone spurs. While these spurs are often not felt on their own, they can constrict nerves and narrow both your spinal canal and your nerve root exits. When nerves are then compressed or irritated, additional pain may occur, along with numbness and tingling.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition with no cure. Often, there is no way to tell exactly how and why your osteoarthritis developed. Talking to your doctor can help identify some risk factors and potential causes. If your arthritis is caused by modifiable causes, making some lifestyle changes can reduce the severity of your symptoms and can slow the degradation of your cartilage. Paired with other therapies, you can find that your symptoms become far more manageable and that you are able to resume your favorite activities.