How to Take Care of Your Spine as You Age
The human spine is a complex anatomic structure, made up of discs and joints that, like the hinges on a cabinet, can become worn with time.
While a physician may use potentially worrying terms such as "arthritis" or "degeneration" to describe the changes in your joints, these are a normal part of the aging process.
The normal wear and tear of aging may not always produce symptoms. But you may experience pain with movement when the changes cause structures in the neck or back to compress your spinal cord.
The common symptoms that indicate you have a degenerative back condition include:
Other common signs of spinal cord wear and tear may be tingling, numbness, weakness, or shooting pain that spreads to the hands.
If you experience painful symptoms, you may want to visit your primary care doctor who will prescribe anti-inflammatory medication or give you a referral to begin physical therapy. If symptoms persist or worsen, you might need to see a spine surgeon.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Degenerative Spine Conditions
Spine surgeons will evaluate, diagnose and treat you when you suffer from neck pain and back pain. However, they don’t operate until all non-surgical options have been exhausted. In fact, the overwhelming majority of spine problems don’t need surgery.
Non-surgical and multidisciplinary approaches in cervical treatment options include:
Your doctor might also recommend you continue treatment with a physiatrist. Most people recover from spine pain after physical therapy. If symptoms persist or worsen, you might need to see a spine surgeon.
Surgical Approaches to Spine Degenerative Disorders
When your doctors exhaust all nonoperative options and you still experience symptoms, such as difficulty with bowel or bladder function, gait problems, or pain with weakness, then your doctor will start to consider surgery.
Surgical approach to cervical degenerative disorders is required when:
- non-surgical treatment options fail to reduce pain and inflammation
- the vertebral disc has leaked its fluid into surrounding spaces irritating nearby nerves
- the bone spurs in your spine are putting pressure on your spinal cord
- the disc is damaged beyond the point where it can effectively absorb compressive forces of the spine
Spine surgery is recommended if you have been suffering from symptoms for a month or more. Likewise, you are eligible for surgery when you suffer from a severe disc herniation, and may risk paralysis, or other serious conditions.
A multidisciplinary team of doctors and specialists, such as spine surgeons, physical therapists, physiatrists, and pain specialists will collaborate to get you back to your life as quickly as possible.
Also, if you suffer from hypertension or diabetes, and complications crop up as your spinal condition is being treated, you can access resources that can address these complications.
How to Maintain a Healthy Spine As You Age
Among the parts of our body with the shortest "warranties" is the spine - our body’s central support structure that keeps us upright and moving. To maximize your chances of remaining active and mobile, as you age, you should focus on a few key preventive measures:
- practice good posture - when it comes to the spine, practicing a correct posture is essential because improper body posture can have a severe effect on the back and considerably cause serious pain. Furthermore, adopting a good posture will do wonders for your spine and overall health as you age.
- maintain an ideal body weight to relieve the pressure of extra weight on your spine
- regular physical activity - your physician will advise you that to avoid injuries you should strengthen your core muscles, which include the lower back, hips, and abdomen. These are the muscles that work together to keep your body balanced. Also, you should use proper technique when performing high-intensity movements or modify them and use lighter weights to lower intensity. If you had to give up an important activity because of back pain, you should seek consultation from a spine expert to explore the best way forward. In many cases, certain activities can be reclaimed responsibly, and you could get back to the activities you love.
Contact Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital for further information and guidance on ways to mitigate the effects of aging on your back.
Correlating Symptoms with Spine Images
Spine surgeons at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital see hundreds of people a year suffering from a wide range of spinal disorders, from whiplash to herniated discs.
In your initial evaluation, a physician will review your X-rays or MRIs and perform a physical exam. Your doctor will try to match your symptoms with the abnormal areas on imaging.
For example, if you experience ongoing or unexplained pain that radiates into your hand or sensory problems, your physician may establish that there’s likely damage to a neck vertebra. However, the abnormalities in imaging aren’t always the cause of symptoms.
Comprehensive spine services, from evaluation and diagnosis to surgery and rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital
Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital is dedicated to the evaluation and treatment of patients suffering from disorders of the spine and spinal cord.
Our multidisciplinary team of orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, neurologists, rehabilitation medicine physicians, pain management specialists, radiologists, physical and occupational therapists, works together to customize a personalized plan of care. This means a faster recovery so you can return to your daily activities as quickly as possible.