An estimated 90% of adults in the United States experience severe, persistent back pain at some point in their lives. For most, this dissipates within 3 months, and normal activities can resume. However, as you age, wear and tear can make your back more vulnerable.
At Steel City Spine and Orthopedic Center, we serve Allegheny County from locations in Pittsburgh, Washington, and McKees Rock, Pennsylvania. Dr. Jocelyn Idema and our spine specialists routinely see patients suffering from back pain. Here’s what they say about back pain caused by aging and spinal degeneration.
The aging spine
Your spine supports your body mechanically, contributing to healthy posture and mobility. It also acts as your body’s command center, providing a base of operations where your central nervous system sends signals to your brain as you sit, stand, walk, run, reach, and twist.
As you age, back pain might become more frequent and severe, especially if you’ve spent your life working jobs or playing sports that adversely impacted your spinal health. Back pain is the second most frequent reason (after the common cold) that people visit healthcare providers each year.
This is because the spine has many points of friction and pressure, and the natural protective surfaces can begin to wear away. Repetitive use injuries can contribute to back pain, and so can hormonal fluctuations and changes in bone density.
Other types of back problems include:
The bones in your spine are separated by jelly-filled discs. As you age, the exterior of these discs can become brittle, and pressure may cause them to crack or herniate.
This allows the jelly to ooze out and press on nerves running up and down the column of your spine, causing back pain that is nerve-related and comes in very sharp and intense bursts. This is commonly referred to as a slipped disc.
Osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease, occurs when the cartilage that lines the facet joints between each vertebra gradually breaks down, allowing bones in the spine to grind against one another. You can even end up with small spinal fractures.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that eventually results in chronic back pain. The increasing strain and pressure on the spinal cord can also cause numbness and cramping in the legs. In many cases, people have both OA and spinal stenosis, as the two conditions can contribute to each other.
Frequently, pain in the back can radiate to other parts of the body including the chest, hips, or down one or both legs or arms. The referred pain can only be successfully treated by addressing the source of the problem.
Degenerative changes affect virtually every aging spine at some point, but while you’re more susceptible to back pain as you age, you shouldn't ignore it. Getting a proper diagnosis can allow for specific treatment of your problem, and relieve your pain.
Supporting spine health as you age
While you can’t stop genetics or reverse the impact of certain jobs or hobbies, you can support your spine health as you age. Here are some tips to support your spine health as you age.
- Don’t smoke, vape, or chew tobacco
- Work on your posture
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Work on fitness, especially your core muscles
- Try to stretch your muscles daily with simple exercises
- Make sure your footwear is well-fitting and supportive
- If you work a job that requires sitting, get up frequently and move around
Some mild, intermittent back pain may be normal as you age, but you shouldn’t have to live with pain that is constant, mobility-limiting, or that prevents you from enjoying your life.
If you have chronic or severe back pain, it’s time to find a solution. Contact Steel City Spine and Orthopedic Center today by calling the location nearest you or by making an appointment online.