Causes of Prolapsed Discs — Aging

The natural aging process is one of the most common causes of prolapsed discs. Over time, the spinal anatomy naturally begins to deteriorate, which can lead to a number of spine disorders, including disc degeneration. In some individuals, this deterioration becomes advanced and causes nerve compression, which may create a variety of chronic symptoms. In these instances, physician-led treatment may be warranted to effectively manage the discomfort. So, why does aging cause disc problems?

Growing older

Most people accept that as we grow older, we naturally slow down. Minor aches and pains are associated with the aging process and we understand that the older we get, the less flexible we become. Like the rest of the body, the spinal anatomy gradually deteriorates as a result of decades of wear and tear — and one of the most common forms of deterioration is the onset of prolapsed discs.

The intervertebral discs in the spine have two main components that are both susceptible to deteriorating with age:

  • A tough outer shell called the annulus fibrosus that consists of tightly arranged collagen fibers. Beginning in middle age, the collagen in these fibers breaks down and the disc wall starts to split and fray.
  • Gel-like inner disc material known as the nucleus pulposus, which like the annulus fibrosus contains collagen, and that collagen decreases with age. The nucleus also contains water that dehydrates over time.

A prolapsed disc occurs when a tear develops in the annulus fibrosus. This tear allows the nucleus pulposus to seep out of the disc and enter the spinal canal. Tears can develop in a number of ways, but they are commonly seen in older individuals because, as previously mentioned, the disc walls tend to become brittle and thin over time, making them susceptible to rupturing. The tear itself can cause localized pain, while a variety of other symptoms can develop if the herniated disc material comes in contact with the nearby nerve infrastructure.

Treatment options

In order to effectively treat the symptoms of a prolapsed disc, its exact cause, location and severity must be identified. Obviously, the aging process cannot be reversed, but there are many treatment options available to alleviate symptoms and even increase spinal flexibility. At Laser Spine Institute, for example, we specialize in several minimally invasive procedures that are designed to address prolapsed discs. To learn about our various outpatient treatments, contact us today.