When you think about growing older, you might imagine yourself spending time with loved ones, carrying on family traditions, and making new memories. But you don’t want to envision a future of back pain caused by disc degeneration, a common source of back pain that happens when your discs start to wear down.
Research indicates that disc degeneration affects most people (to some degree) after age 40, but are you destined to experience it as you age? Not necessarily!
Let's dive into the topic and explore whether disc degeneration is inevitable with age, courtesy of our Lakeshore Pain and Spine Center team.
Your spine is a series of bones called vertebrae, stacked on each other. There are small, rubbery cushions between each vertebra, known as intervertebral discs. These discs play a crucial role in maintaining flexibility and shock-absorbing capabilities of your spine.
As you age, your body goes through a series of changes and your intervertebral discs are no exception. Over time, these discs can naturally degenerate, which is often associated with the following factors:
The discs in your spine contain a gel-like substance called the nucleus pulposus. This gel-like substance provides cushioning, but as you age, your discs lose some water content, becoming less pliable and less effective at absorbing shocks.
Throughout your life, your spine undergoes a lot of wear-and-tear. Repetitive movements, poor posture, and injuries can all contribute to the gradual breakdown of your discs.
While you can’t avoid using your back, you can reduce your risks of wear-and-tear by using proper posture at all times, use safe lifting techniques, and warm up (to avoid sports injuries).
The discs in your spine rely on the flow of nutrients (delivered via your blood) to stay healthy. As you get older, blood flow to these discs may decrease.
Any exercise that gets your heart pumping can help improve your circulation. The better your circulation is, the better your nutrient supply to your spine is.
Genetics can also play a role in disc degeneration. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to experience more rapid disc degeneration than others.
While genetics can contribute to the risk of disc degeneration, it's important to note that lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, and posture, also play a role in determining the rate and severity of disc degeneration. In other words, just because you have several family members with disc degeneration doesn’t necessarily mean you will have it, too.
While some degree of disc degeneration is a natural part of aging, there are steps you can take to minimize its impact on your life:
A balanced diet and regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the strain on your spine. Staying active also promotes better blood flow to your discs.
Maintain proper posture when you sit, walk, sleep, and stand. This practice can help reduce the wear-and-tear on your discs. Be mindful of your posture in everyday activities.
When lifting heavy objects, whether a box at work or a set of free weights at the gym, use proper lifting techniques to avoid straining your back and discs. Bend your knees, keep the object close to your body, and never twist while lifting. Use a buddy or a two-wheeled cart to assist with heavy items when possible.
If you experience persistent back pain or suspect disc degeneration, don’t hesitate to reach out. Early intervention and proper treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent further deterioration. Seeking medical advice also means you can get started on treatment (and experience relief) sooner!
While disc degeneration is part of the aging process, it's not necessarily inevitable. You can take proactive steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but if back pain creeps in, you’re not stuck dealing with the pain on your own.
As an interventional pain management expert, Bradley A Silva, MD, offers a variety of interventional pain management therapies at Lakeshore Pain and Spine Center to help reduce your pain and slow the progression of disc degeneration. Potential treatments include medication, physical therapy, epidural joint injections, nerve blocks, or surgery.
To explore your treatment options, call our Kenosha, Wisconsin, office at 262-484-4035. Alternatively, request an appointment online.