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Aging and Herniated Discs: What's the Link?

Aches and pains seem to be the inevitable partner of getting older, even when the medical world assures you that some of these are avoidable. It’s not always clear why some people suffer heavily from conditions like osteoarthritis, for example, while others seem to sidestep symptoms.

Like osteoarthritis, herniated discs are often brought on by age-related deterioration and ordinary wear and tear.  Is there a link between age and your risk of suffering a herniated disc? There could be, depending on several factors. If you’re suffering from back pain that doesn’t resolve, contact Atlas Neurosurgery & Spine to investigate the problem.

Disc issues

In everyday language, you hear the term “slipped disc,” suggesting that the cushioning pads between vertebrae can slide out of position like the cushions on that couch that got relegated to the basement. In reality, that doesn’t happen.

When you have a “slipped disc,” you likely have either a bulging or herniated disk. The disk itself is still where it’s supposed to be, but there’s an injury forcing it outside its usual boundaries.

The difference between bulging and herniated discs

A common analogy compares vertebral discs to jelly donuts. They’re composed of a tougher outer tissue — the “donut” — surrounding a softer, more fluid tissue in the middle, the “jelly.” Of course, these tissues are both stronger than their baked analogy, but the general construction is similar.

A bulging disc occurs when forces press the disc out of its natural shape, but where the outer tissue remains intact. The deformation of the disc can irritate or pressure nerves, causing the pain and other sensations you feel with this type of back injury.

A herniated disc can cause the same symptoms since it also results in a disc deformation. The difference here is that the outer shell of the disc ruptures, and the softer inner tissue escapes. It’s often this inner tissue that presses against nerves when you have back pain related to a disc herniation.

Herniated discs and aging

Disc herniation typically results from years of wear and tear, use and misuse. As with other body tissue, discs dry out and become more brittle as you get older, making them more susceptible to damage, even through activities you’ve previously taken in stride.

The changes that occur to discs over time include a loss of distinction between outer and inner tissues, and the outer layer starts to display fissures and tears, usually in your 20s or 30s, even if these don’t yet cause problems. The precise features of disc aging vary widely between people, so there’s no predictable pattern to disc degeneration. Certain conditions or behaviors could add to your risk of herniated disc, including:

When you feel pain, numbness, or tingling that you associate with back problems, contact Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center at one of their three locations in Phoenix and Sun City, by phone or online, to schedule your consultation. The sooner your back pain is treated, the better your chances for effective relief, so book your appointment today.

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