As people age, the joints, bones, ligaments, and other structures in the body can wear out from overuse. One body part that seems to wear out most noticeably for many people is the back.
The spine is always in use throughout our lives – whether we’re standing, walking, running, sitting, or even just lying down – being subjected to the effects of gravity and from bending and twisting, causing wear and tear. The most common locations for complaints related to back pain are in the neck (cervical spine) and the lower back (lumbar spine).
Wear and Tear of the Spine
The gradual, cumulative effects of aging gradually weaken the spine’s structures, especially the intervertebral discs. These discs act as cushions in the spine, they protect the spinal cord, and they keep the vertebrae together. A disc resides between each set of two vertebrae in order to prevent these bones from rubbing against each other.
Each vertebral disc has a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosis. This protects the softer inner section called the nucleus pulposus, which is jelly-like fluid. With age, the nucleus of a disc can gradually dehydrate, causing the disc to flatten down.
The disc, therefore, loses its sponginess, making any bone-jarring impacts to be noticeably felt. More importantly, this loss of fluid creates a greater chance that the disc will rupture or tear, leaking its fluid and possibly creating pressure and pain against the spinal cord.
When this happens, it is called a herniated or ruptured disc – which can cause anterior, posterior, and lateral shifting of the affected vertebrae and discs. The body may heal this injury naturally; if not, a discectomy can be done to replace the disc with an artificial prosthetic disc. This should help to alleviate painful symptoms and to restore normal movement.
Causes of Age-Related Back Pain
Gradually the spine can lose flexibility and stiffens, which can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the back. If the protective discs between vertebrae begin to dry out with age, this increases pressure and friction on the vertebrae – resulting in osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is usually referred to as simply “arthritis.” It is a very common condition that can affect people over age 40; however, it can also affect younger people who have underlying health conditions or are active in high-impact sports, such as tennis.
Complications from Spinal Problems
Back pain and spinal issues affect almost everyone as they age. In fact, by mid-adulthood, most people have at least one vertebral disc that shows degeneration.
Degenerative disc disease refers to several possible conditions of the spine. These include loss of disc height and integrity, bulging discs, herniated discs, cracked discs, and other conditions.
Spinal stenosis is a gradual narrowing of the space through which the spinal cord runs. This narrowing can press on the nerve roots, causing pain and nerve dysfunction. It happens most often in the neck and the lower back, but it can occur anywhere in the spine.
Spine Doctors in Maryland
If you or someone you know suffers from unexplained back pain, it may be some form of degenerative disc disease. Visit an orthopedist for evaluation, diagnosis, and possible treatment options.
Contact the Spine Academy of Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland today by calling (866) 927-1338 or request an appointment online, and take care of that back pain once and for all.