Connection between collapsed discs and aging

A collapsed disc is used to describe a number of spinal conditions that cause the discs in the spine to lose height and shape. These conditions, such as a herniated disc, bulging disc and prolapsed disc, could also be collectively referred to as degenerative disc disease because the main cause of this condition is the natural degeneration of the spine.

As the spine ages and weakens over time, the discs in the spine undergo pressure and are at a greater risk for damage. However, by understanding why age and degeneration play such a large role in the development of degenerative discs, you can begin to make lifestyle choices to help promote overall spine health and possibly lower your risk of a damaged disc.

How can aging cause a collapsed disc?

Every day our spine undergoes pressure from weight, motion and strain placed on our body. Years of wear from everyday activities like sitting, standing and walking can cause the elements of the spine to break down. These age-related changes can affect the discs that help support the spine and act as natural shock absorbers between the bony vertebrae. Each disc has two main components — a disc wall and a gel-like center.

When pressure from the surrounding vertebrae due to weight gain and repetitive motion squeezes down on the discs, the inner disc core presses against the elastic outer layer, trying to expand outward under the pressure. The elasticity of the disc’s outer wall holds everything in place, maintaining the proper shape and structure of the spine.

However, after years of constant pressure, small tears can begin to develop in the outer layer. Eventually, the disc’s elasticity may give way and allow the disc to expand and flatten, sometimes tearing along the outer layer and letting the inner disc fluid leak into the spinal canal. When this occurs, the disc can no longer function as a stabilizer for the spine, and any motion of the spine can create excruciating pain in the back and legs.

Other factors that can influence the development of a collapsed disc

Several factors can increase the risk of developing a collapsed disc, including the following:

  • Weight. Carrying excess weight applies unnecessary pressure to the spine. The neck and back have to work extra hard to account for this.
  • Smoking. Smoking tobacco products can be very harmful to the body because it decreases oxygen levels in the blood. This can cause the discs to lose out on necessary nutrients.
  • Physical activity. Strenuous occupations that require constant lifting, twisting and bending can apply extra stress to the spine. High-impact sports, such as hockey and football, can cause additional wear.

How is a collapsed disc treated?

Since aging is a key contributing factor for a collapsed disc, everyone experiences some loss of disc height. Only when a nearby nerve becomes compressed due to damaged disc material do symptoms begin. When symptoms of pain, numbness, weakness and sciatica do arise, many physicians recommend a series of conservative treatments to reduce the pain of a pinched nerve.

Conservative therapies, such as pain medications, physical therapy, heat massages, chiropractic care and range-of-motion exercises are often effective for mildly damaged discs. Patients who don’t find relief from several weeks or months of conservative treatments may require surgery. If this is the case for you, contact Laser Spine Institute.

Laser Spine Institute’s minimally invasive spine surgery offers patients a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^ Our minimally invasive decompression surgery removes a small portion of the damaged disc from the pinched nerve, while our stabilization surgery replaces the damaged disc with an artificial one to reduce pain and symptoms.

For many patients, our decompression surgery is an appropriate method of treatment. However, serious disc damage may require a stabilization procedure to bring stability to the spine. To see if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive collapsed disc surgery, reach out to our dedicated team today and request a free MRI review.*