older man with back pain

Age-Related Spine Problems

This article was last updated on July 5, 2016

Many of us incorporate an exercise routine into our daily lives. But as you age, do these routines reduce your risk from becoming susceptible to spine-related problems?

According to UPMC orthopaedic surgeon Vincent Silvaggio, MD, the answer is yes.

“Maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, eating a healthy diet, and exercising on a routine basis are all good things we can do for our backs.”

Dr. Silvaggio says some normal wear and tear occurs over time, but you can help protect yourself by being mindful of certain illnesses and injuries.

Degenerative Discs

Your spine is made of bones called vertebrae. They are stacked on top of each other, with a disc in between to provide cushioning. But over time, these discs can get worn down, causing your bones to rub against each other. This can lead to stiffness and intermittent back pain.

Spinal Stenosis

As your discs degenerate, they cause narrowing of the open spaces (spinal canal) within your spine. This may cause pressure to develop on your spinal cord and “pinch” your nerves. Stenosis may result in low back pain but more importantly can cause pain, numbness, or weakness feeling in your legs.

Deteriorated Joints (Arthritis)

Arthritis is a common problem for many older adults. Not only can it afflict your hands, knees, or hips but also the bones that make up your spine.

Frail Vertebrae (Osteoporosis)

As you age, you lose bone density and may develop osteoporosis, even more so if you’re a woman. The bones in your back thus become frail and fractures can happen more easily. Bone density tests can alert you and your doctor to an impending problem.

Finding Relief from Spinal Problems

If you’re suffering from pain, even if you think the cause is aging, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can review your treatment options. Some problems can be alleviated with medications, injections, or physical therapy. Others may require surgery.

Although surgical intervention remains a last resort, advances in surgical techniques are making spinal surgery less frightening for patients. Fortunately, pain due to disc degeneration or arthritis can be treated without surgery, but for those suffering with spinal stenosis, surgery can greatly alleviate disabling symptoms in select patients. Minimally invasive techniques, in particular, can offer shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery times, fewer complications and lower costs.

UPMC’s spine experts treat everything from complex traumatic injuries, to back surgeries for chronic pain, and congenital (inherited) and acquired (not genetic or inherited) spinal conditions. Visit us our spine services website online or call 1-866-987-ORTHO.