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Spine Health and Aging: Addressing Degenerative Conditions and Treatments

Spine Health and Aging: Addressing Degenerative Conditions and Treatments
Spine Health and Aging: Addressing Degenerative Conditions and Treatments

Did you know back pain is the leading cause of disability in the US? The problem is most common in the 45 to 60-year age group. Aging brings about inevitable spinal changes, leading to discomfort and restricted mobility. Understanding these changes and the available options for managing them can ensure a better quality of life as you age.

How Aging Affects Your Spine

The common age-related changes in the spine are:

  • Disc Degeneration: This occurs when spinal discs, which are the spongy shock absorbers located between each vertebra, lose hydration and elasticity. Disc degeneration leads to pain, stiffness, reduced flexibility, and potential disc herniation.
  • Ligament Thickening: The ligaments that support the spine, may become thickened and stiff, contributing to spinal stenosis and narrowing of the spinal canal.
  • Bone Spurs (Osteophytes): As the body responds to degenerative changes, it may produce bony outgrowths called bone spurs, which can develop along the edges of vertebrae. Bone spurs can contribute to spinal instability, nerve compression, and pain.
  • Changes in Posture: Muscle weakness and loss of bone density can lead to changes in posture, such as kyphosis (excessive rounding of the upper back) or lordosis (increased curvature of the lower back).

Nonsurgical Spine Treatments

Non-surgical treatments play a crucial role in managing these age-related spine conditions. Some of the top nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Physical Therapy: Performing exercises to improve core muscle strength and stretches to maintain spinal flexibility.
  • Posture Education: Learning and practicing good posture habits, such as sitting up straight, lifting objects correctly, and maintaining a neutral spine can help prevent back pain and maintain spinal health.
  • Ergonomic Modifications: Making adjustments in the workplace and at home, such as using supportive chairs, and maintaining proper workstation setup can help reduce strain on the spine.
  • Pain Medications: These may be taken orally or as spine injections to resolve pain and inflammation. Pain medications are generally considered to be a short-term strategy to allow you to participate in physical activities that will strengthen your spine.

Spine Surgery

Surgical options may be considered when pain persists, radiates to the extremities, or when neurological symptoms such as numbness and tingling occur. Procedures such as spinal decompression or spinal fusion can alleviate pressure on nerves and stabilize the spine. Advances in surgical techniques, including robotic and minimally invasive spine surgery, have improved safety and effectiveness with shorter recovery times compared to traditional open surgeries.

Prevention and early intervention are key to preserving spinal health as you age. Take action today to address any chronic neck or back pain and reclaim your quality of life, consult a spine specialist to explore your options.

AUTHOR: Dr. Payam Moazzaz is a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon in California specializing in robotic-assisted minimally invasive spine surgery.