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Keeping Your Spine Healthy as You Age

Keeping Your Spine Healthy as You Age

Keeping your spine healthy as you age

Back and spine issues are some of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor. And as you age, those aches and pains become more likely. According to data from the CDC, adults ages 45 and up had the highest rates of back pain, with nearly half reporting pain in the last three months.

While you can’t prevent some factors that lead to spine conditions, like genetics or age, you can make choices that help keep your spine healthy as you grow older. The first step is understanding some of the common changes in your spine and the lifestyle factors that could affect your spine health.

Common spine conditions as we age

Older adults can still experience overuse injuries or stress fractures that tend to be common in younger people. But they also may be more at risk for other spine issues, like arthritis and degeneration.

“When you have arthritis and degeneration in the spine, you may lose flexibility and lose the ability of the discs in your spine to absorb various stresses over time,” says Rick Burg, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Total Orthopedics Sports & Spine.

As a result of these changes, some of the most common spine conditions that develop as you age include:

  • Spondylosis, which is a broader term for arthritic changes and age-related wear in the spine
  • Degenerative disc disease, where the discs that act as cushions within the spine wear out
  • Spinal stenosis, which can be caused by age-related changes in the spine that lead to narrowing and pressure on the nerves and spinal cord
  • Sciatica, when pressure is put on a nerve and causes numbness or tingling in the limbs
  • Spondylolisthesis, or spine instability, which means there’s abnormal movement in the spine

Ways to keep your spine healthy

Some people have genetic factors that make the bones and tissues in their spine wear out faster. Others have factors in the way their spine is naturally built that lead to increases in degeneration over time. But everyone can make lifestyle changes that support overall spine health.

“To take care of your spine, focus on a healthy lifestyle and avoid situations that could potentially cause problems,” Dr. Burg says.

  1. Stay active: This includes cardiovascular fitness, low-impact aerobic exercises, and keeping flexibility. It’s important to keep the muscles that support the spine and joints strong and keep moving. A lack of exercise or movement leads to stiffness and pain.
  1. Focus on a strong core: Core muscle exercises are important to the spine. A strong core helps support the spine, keep it aligned, and reduce the risk of injuries.
  1. Keep a healthy weight: The spine bears a lot of weight. Extra body weight adds to the load or stress on the spine and its discs.
  1. Eat a nutritious diet: Eat a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, which serve as essential building blocks for the body and bones. It’s important to stay hydrated too.
  1. Consider occupational factors: If your job requires activities like heavy labor or lifting, take the right steps for ergonomics to avoid overuse injuries and know the proper way to lift or bend.

Finding care for your spine

Even with a healthy lifestyle and the right preventive steps, age-related spine conditions still happen. For the majority of people, spine pain resolves with time, activity modifications, and anti-inflammatory medications.

If you’re having back pain, it’s also important to avoid the urge to stay in bed or stop moving completely. In the long run, this can lead to additional pain and stiffness and a longer recovery. When symptoms aren’t getting better or are keeping you from activity, it may be a sign you should visit the doctor.

“People can use home exercise or over-the-counter medications to treat back pain,” Dr. Burg says. “However, neurologic signs or pain that interferes with life warrant a more urgent evaluation.”

Some common signs that should be evaluated by a doctor include:

  • Pain throughout the spine, neck, and lower back
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms or legs
  • Shooting pain or an electrical sensation that starts in the spine and goes into the legs
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence
  • Progressive weakness

Overall, one of the most important steps to keep your spine healthy as you age is to take a proactive approach to your care. An orthopedic specialist can help you navigate all your options, from medications to treatments like physical therapy or pain management to lastly surgery.

“We make sure that patients understand conservative options prior to considering surgery,” Dr. Burg says. “There are several factors to consider in spine care and treatment decision making. The best option for one patient may not be the best for another.”

If you are experiencing back pain, and would like to see a specialist, call Total Orthopedics Sports and Spine today at 972-727-9995 and schedule an appointment with Dr. Richard Burg.