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The Aging Spine

The Aging Spine

Quite a few patients ask me why they are having back pain and neck problems.  The bulk of the time patients come in, they are suffering from a form of arthritis. 

Arthritis is a general term, referring to the breakdown of a joint.  This applies to any joint in the body.  In the spine, there are MULTIPLE joints, that allow for both mobility and stability.

 

Aging and trauma create wear and tear on joints in the body.  The spine, specifically tends to age in a way unique to each individual.  Your posture, weight, if you smoke, and some genetic factors as well can all contribute to how quickly your spine degenerates. 

Not everyone gets spinal arthritis at the same rate.  Many people come into the clinic you are actually quite young.  A number of factors will play into early problems in the spine.  Conditions such as spondylolysis (congenital bone defects in the spine), scoliosis, and trauma such as high impact sports or car accidents can create an environment where accelerated wear and tear can be seen.

On the other hand, many people are well into their 8th or 9th decade by the time they have significant problems.  They may be genetically advantaged in some way, or they may exercise regularly.  Regular physical activity - such as swimming, walking, aerobics, and some sporting activities - has been shown both to slow down this process as well as increase your bone’s calcium content (i.e. slow down loss of bone density). 

Posture is one of the more difficult things people deal with.  It takes practice.  There are some wearable technologies that monitor your spine’s position in space and may notify you if you are out of alignment.  Other tools include yoga, certain martial arts, and meditation can help you be more mindful of your body’s position in space.

 

 

 

Above is a picture showing good alignment.  Maintaining this in your daily life is important.  Think of keeping your ears over your shoulders, your shoulder over your hips, and your hips above your feet.  With a good foundation, safe posture is achievable.

 

With regular exercise, good posture, and keeping your weight down, you are doing nearly everything you can to keep your spine healthy and staying active. 

Author
Brian R. Gantwerker, MD, FACS, FAANS Brian R. Gantwerker, MD, FAANS, FACS specializes in the treatment of degenerative and traumatic diseases of the spine through minimally invasive techniques. He also treats many patients for concussion and its after-effects and educates on its prevention. Dr. Gantwerker is committed to providing newly advanced techniques for the treatment of brain and spine diseases. He is proficient in both minimally-invasive and complex brain and spinal surgeries. He is diplomate of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. Dr. Gantwerker is a Chicago native who attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he earned his pre-medical education and graduated magna cum laude with honors, majoring in psychology. Dr. Gantwerker received his medical degree at Rush Medical College in Chicago where he focused on peripheral nerve regeneration research. Dr. Gantwerker is a member societies, and a member of the CNS, AANS, and serves as a director at the California Association of Neurological Surgeons.

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