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What Happens to the Spine As We Age?

What Happens to the Spine As We Age?

    As we age, our body starts to not be able to work like it used to. Many of the things that happen to our bodies as we age are out of our control. Because we use our spine and neck so much during our lifetime it is very common for the spine and neck to wear down in old age.


    One of the most common things that will happen as we get older is the cartilage between your vertebrae will start to wear down and degenerate. It will become thinner causing the vertebrae to move closer together which smashes the nerves and causes pain. This is one of the main culprits of chronic back pain in older people. When this occurs there are two conditions that may form: spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis.


Spinal Stenosis

    There are three types of spinal stenosis: lumbar, cervical, and thoracic. Lumbar stenosis is in the lower back. It is caused by pressure building up on the spine from the degeneration of the cartilage. This can be very painful and can cause leg pain when walking or numbness in the legs or back.

Cervical stenosis is in the neck. It is practically the same as lumbar but just in the neck. Cervical stenosis can be very dangerous if not treated. Because there is pressure pushing down on the neck’s nerves if it is not treated it can cause paralysis. If someone has cervical stenosis for an extended period of time they may have to have surgery to prevent any other complications.

Thoracic stenosis is the rarest. This occurs in the middle back. It is rarer because the middle of the back is not in motion as much as the lower back and neck and so it is less likely for degeneration to occur there. When it does occur, the symptoms can be similar to lumbar stenosis.

Spinal stenosis is a long-term disease, and it does not have a cure. Yet there are ways that the symptoms can be treated. Exercise is one of the best things to do. This way you will keep your body moving. Though it is best to modify certain activities so you do not put a strain on your back. Your other options are to take anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling or to have epidural injections.


    Osteoarthritis, also known as the joint disease, is very similar to stenosis. Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of the cartilage between joints. It can occur in any joint but is most common in hips, knees, hands, and feet. When it is severe the symptoms can make it very difficult to move the joints. Other less severe symptoms include stiffness and soreness in the joints. According to the Arthritis Association, “One in 12 people 60 years or older have hand OA.” Showing that this disease affects many people as they get older.

    There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are treatments that can help reduce the pain. Staying active is one of the key factors in maintaining osteoarthritis. If you do not move the sore joints than they will become stiff and eventually you will lose mobility altogether. Taking anti-inflammatories can help reduce the swelling and some of the pain.  You can also go to physical therapy and they can help stretch and loosen the joints that are aching to increase mobility and reduce pain.