Is Back Pain Inevitable As I Age?

Is Back Pain Inevitable As I Age?

Back pain in general is such a common medical problem that 60-80% of adults experience some form of it during their lives. The most commonly affected areas are the lower back (lumbar spine) and the neck (cervical spine), because they undergo the most movement.

The pain you experience depends on the underlying cause and may be dull or sharp, localized or traveling, mild or so severe that it interferes with your daily activities.

At Pinnacle Pain and Spine, pain management specialists Dr. Matthew Crooks and Dr. Stuart Rammell routinely see patients with back pain stemming from an array of causes. Many are understandably concerned that back pain is inevitable as they age, but is it true? 

Here’s what the experts have to say.

How your spine stacks up

Your spine, which extends from the base of your skull down to your tailbone, is simultaneously rigid and flexible. Twenty-four bony vertebrae stack one on top of the other, providing the rigidity you need to stand up straight. 

The vertebrae are connected to each other by two pairs of facet joints, one pair on the top and one pair on the bottom of each vertebra, that allow you to bend, flex, and twist.

In between each pair of vertebrae lies an intervertebral disc, a structure that absorbs the shock when you move and prevents the bones from grating against each other. Each is composed of a hard outer covering (annulus) surrounding a gel-like inner core (nucleus).

The entire stacked structure forms the spinal column, which surrounds the spinal canal. The spinal cord runs through the canal, with nerve extensions exiting between vertebrae, destined for the body’s peripheral areas.

What causes back pain?

Back pain can be the result of many different conditions, some relatively innocuous and some serious. 

Sprains and strains are common injuries at any age, especially for those who play sports or are otherwise active. In addition, car accidents can lead to whiplash, herniated discs, or damaged vertebrae, among other things, as can falls.

Some conditions, though, are more common as you get older.

Spinal osteoarthritis (OA)

OA is the most common form of arthritis, resulting from joint wear-and-tear over time. Normally, the facet joints are covered by slippery cartilage to help them move easily. Over a lifetime, though, movement breaks down the cartilage. Bone can then grate against bone, causing pain and inflammation along the spine.

Bone spurs (osteophytes)

When bones rub against each other, the friction produces bony growths on the vertebrae. These spurs narrow the spinal canal (a condition called spinal stenosis) and the openings where nerves exit the spinal column (foramina). The spurs press on the nerve roots, causing pain.

Degenerative disc disease

Like OA, degenerative disc disease is a wear-and-tear condition, but it affects the discs instead of the joints. 

Over time, the discs dehydrate and flatten, causing stenosis and a narrowing of the foramina. The discs themselves can press on nerve roots, while the degeneration stresses the facet joints, accelerating their deterioration and causing additional pain.

Bulging and herniated discs

As a result of age-related degeneration, the spinal discs change shape and move out of their normal position — they bulge. 

With enough force, the annulus can rupture and spill out of the nucleus, causing a herniation. The nucleus compresses spinal nerve roots, leading to pain that radiates (travels along the nerve path), numbness, and mobility issues.

Is back pain inevitable?

After seeing what back conditions can arise with age, you may think that back pain is inevitable as you get older, but that’s not the case.

Not everyone develops these age-related conditions. And even if you do develop one or more of them, we at Pinnacle Pain and Spine have treatments designed to relieve the discomfort and get your back back on track.

Some of the many therapies we offer include:

If these conservative treatments aren’t effective, we can perform a spinal fusion, permanently connecting vertebrae so they no longer grate together or press on nerve roots.

Are you experiencing back pain? We can help. Call us at any of our Arizona locations — Scottsdale, Chandler, or Fountain Hills — to set up a consultation, or send us a message online.

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