How aging contributes to the formation of a herniated disc

Many factors contribute to the development of a herniated disc, but age may be the most common.

By the time most people reach middle age, the components of the spine have endured decades of wear and tear related to bending, twisting and turning. This wear and tear is particularly pronounced within the lower back (lumbar spine) and the neck (cervical spine), where the spine is very flexible and must bear the weight of the upper body and the head, respectively.

The spinal discs, which cushion and separate the stacked vertebrae, are especially vulnerable to age-related deterioration. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, men between the ages of 30 and 50 are most often suffer the development of a herniated disc.

A deteriorating disc can rupture

Just because a disc has begun to weaken, it does not necessarily mean that it will develop into a herniated disc. In order for that to be the case, a rupture or tear must be present somewhere within the outer wall (annulus fibrosus) of a disc.

The elastic outer wall of a disc is always under a lot of strain, but that stress is compounded when the gel-like center (nucleus pulposus) of a disc begins to dehydrate with age. Reduced water content within the nucleus causes a disc to lose its ability to withstand the pressure from the adjacent vertebrae, and the disc may experience a loss in height.

That reduction in height places a greater burden on the disc’s outer wall, which can begin to fray over time. Eventually, a portion of the outer wall may begin to tear, which allows the gel-like nucleus material to seep into the spinal canal.

While a herniated disc is not necessarily symptomatic, the tear in the outer wall may cause localized pain and inflammation. If the extruded nucleus material makes contact with a nearby nerve root, it can give rise to the following symptoms:

  • Shooting pain
  • Tingling
  • Diminished sensation or numbness
  • Muscle weakness in the areas associated with the affected nerve

Surgery for a herniated disc

For many cases, symptoms associated with a herniated disc can be managed without surgery through conservative means such as medication and physical therapy, as well as other options. However, if your chronic pain and other herniated disc symptoms remain debilitating after several weeks or months, your physician may recommend you for surgery.

Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive spine surgery as a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery.^ In fact, our minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures are often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open spine surgery.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a possible candidate for one of our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures.

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