How are radiculopathy and the natural aging process connected?

Radiculopathy refers to a set symptoms that appear as a result of damage or compression to one of the spinal nerve roots that branch off from the central spinal cord and travel throughout the body. These symptoms include shooting pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness in the upper and lower extremities that can be extremely debilitating and take you away from the people and activities you love.

In many cases, radiculopathy develops as a result of the natural aging process of the spine. By identifying these symptoms early, you can work with your doctor to diagnose the cause of your pain and the best treatment option for pain relief.

How aging can cause radiculopathy

As the body ages, the spine is exposed to continual stress and pressure, typically from weight gain and repetitive motions. The vertebrae, joints, discs and ligaments of the spine help support the body’s weight and provide a wide range of motion to upper body. These stresses, combined with natural age-related changes, can lead to the following conditions that cause radiculopathy:

  • Loss of water and protein content in the spinal discs, reducing disc height and flexibility and causing conditions like a bulging or herniated disc
  • Diminished bone mass in the vertebrae caused by osteoporosis
  • Degeneration of the facet joints that can lead to inflammation and arthritis
  • Thickening of ligaments, called ossification; this can occur because of calcium deposits that build up over time.

These conditions can cause or contribute to narrowing of the foramina, which are the small openings between the vertebrae that allow the nerve roots to exit the spinal column. If this narrowing, called foraminal stenosis, compresses or irritates a spinal nerve root, radiculopathic symptoms can result.

How to manage radiculopathy

If your doctor has diagnosed you with radiculopathy, the first step typically is to begin a course of conservative treatment. This can include:

  • Prescription or over-the-counter pain medication
  • Exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Lifestyle changes, like better nutrition and posture improvement or quitting smoking

These conservative treatments often take several weeks or months before effective pain relief can be measured, but many patients are able to find long-term relief without having to resort to surgery. However, if chronic symptoms persist after several months of conservative treatment, you may be recommended to consult with a spine surgeon.

If this is your situation, we encourage you to contact Laser Spine Institute to see if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery. Our board-certified surgeons+ can treat the conditions that cause radiculopathy on an outpatient basis and with less risk of complication compared to traditional open spine procedures.

To find out if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute today and ask for a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan.*