The Aging Spine

The Aging Spine

Growing old is as certain as death and taxes. It is a natural phenomenon that no one is exempted from. When you reach your thirties, you may already feel some changes in how you feel and how you look. You do not only mature mentally, but there is a significant change in your physical appearance. These physical changes often leave a lot of women conscious and insecure, especially when it comes to their faces. Some get hysterical when they notice fine lines at the side of their eyes or if they see a single strand of gray hair.

More than just the being bothered by the toll of aging on one’s physical beauty, women should also be concerned about how bones get weak with age. As women grow old, the density of their bones sharply declines. Pains are usually felt in different parts of the body, including the lower back. One of the most common causes of low back pain, and also one of the most misunderstood bone ailments is called Degenerative Disc Disease or DDD. Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal changes in your spinal discs as you age. Spinal discs are soft, compressible discs that separate the interlocking bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend, and twist. Degenerative disc disease can take place throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region).

Many patients diagnosed with low back pain caused by degenerative disc disease are left wondering exactly what this diagnosis means for them. As we age, our intervertebral discs lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock-absorbing characteristics. The ligaments that surround the disc called the annulus fibrosis become brittle and are more easily torn. At the same time, the soft gel-like center of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus starts to dry out and shrink. The combination of damage to the intervertebral discs, the development of bone spurs, and a gradual thickening of the ligaments that support the spine can all contribute to degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine.

The pain usually occurs near the location of the affected disc. An affected disc in the neck area may result in neck or arm pain, while an affected disc in the lower back may result in pain in the back, buttocks, or leg. The pain often gets worse with movements such as bending over, reaching up, or twisting. The pain may start after a major injury, like if one is injured in a car accident, or in a minor injury such as a fall down a flight of stairs. It may also start gradually for no known reason and get worse over time. In some cases, you may have numbness or tingling in your leg or arm.

Degenerative disc disease is diagnosed after a thorough study of a patient, his medical history, and the results of a physical examination. Your health professional will ask about your symptoms, injuries or illnesses, any previous treatment, habits, and activities that may cause the pain in the neck, arms, back, buttocks, or legs. Then your physician will give you treatment options that are suited to your physical condition. At first, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are prescribed. Exercise programs to strengthen abdominal and spinal musculature, improve aerobic fitness, and reduce lumbar lordosis (swayback) are also needed to relieve the symptoms. Surgery is offered only after physical therapy, rest, and medications have failed to adequately relieve the symptoms of pain, numbness, and weakness over a significant period of time. Further treatment depends on whether the damaged disc has worsened into osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or spinal stenosis.

People in their 20s and 30s may already have undergone some structural changes in their discs. As the aging processes continues, the prevalence of DDD increases. There are a lot of pressures when we age and we will continue to experience changes in our bodies, minds, and emotions — all of which are just a natural process.

By being aware and at peace with changes in life, we are better able to cope with the loss or decrease of physical strength and beauty. We can still live normal and healthy lives as we grow old since there are other measures that we can do to avoid illness or reduce pain. Indeed, we would do well to accept change because it is part of human growth; and if we don’t grow, we are not really living.