Neuralgia and the aging process often go hand in hand. A lifetime of bending, twisting, lifting, and pulling takes its toll on every aspect of the body, but the spine is especially vulnerable to the effects of natural degeneration. Due to their flexibility and the fact that they’re tasked with supporting such a large amount of weight, the back and neck are prone to a variety of conditions that can lead to neuralgia.
How Age Affects Spinal Anatomy
Each aspect of the spine is affected by the aging process, including:
- Intervertebral discs – the spongy discs that separate adjacent vertebrae and absorb shock are made of cartilage. Over time, the discs lose height, water content, collagen, and elasticity, making them prone to conditions like a herniated disc or bulging disc. Disc material can press on nearby spinal nerves and cause neuralgia symptoms.
- Vertebrae – the segments of bone that form the spinal column can become brittle and porous with age, a condition called osteoporosis. As the intervertebral discs wear away, the vertebrae may also be forced to grind against each other, which can cause bone spurs to develop on their endplates. In addition, one vertebra can slip forward and over the vertebra beneath it, which is referred to as spondylolisthesis. Any of these can contribute to neuralgia pain.
- Facet joints – the joints on either side of each vertebra are covered in cartilage. Over time the cartilage wears away due to a condition called facet disease, or degenerative joint disease. Bone spurs can then develop in or around the joint. The synovial sac that lubricates the joints can also become inflamed and may contribute to joint stiffness, swelling, throbbing, and instability.
Neuralgia Treatment Options
While neuralgia and the aging process cannot be stopped or reversed, there are a variety of nonsurgical ways that you can manage your risk for neuralgia symptoms. Talk to your physician about developing a treatment plan that might include analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, hot and cold compresses, restorative yoga, and/or behavior modification, among others.
If you find that weeks or months of these treatments prove ineffective, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures.