Wear and tear on the spine is a normal part of aging, but pain doesn’t have to be

By: Amandeep Bhalla, M.D., medical director, Spine Center, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center

As people age, it’s common for them to experience a gradual loss of normal structure and function of the spine. In fact, about ninety percent of patients who undergo surgery at the Spine Center at Long Beach Medical Center suffer from degenerative spine conditions, leading to pain that effects their quality of life.

There are a variety of degenerative spine disorders, but two of the most common that occur as people age are spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis.

  • Spinal stenosis: The spinal canal is the passageway where the spinal cord and nerve roots reside. Spinal stenosis results when the canal is narrowed. This is common with age and may cause pressure on the nerves, swelling, pain, numbness or weakness. Degenerative changes of the spine are seen in up to 95% of people by the age of 50. Spinal stenosis most often occurs in adults over 60, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  • Spondylolisthesis: This occurs when one vertebral body slides forward relative to the one below it. Degenerative spondylolisthesis may result from physical stresses to the spine from physical activity, trauma, and general wear and tear. Women are more likely than men to have degenerative spondylolisthesis, and it is more common in patients over the age of 50, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

What Can You Do? While you can’t reverse the clock, there are several things you can do to address back pain before surgery is needed. Maintaining a healthy weight, diet and doing low-impact physical activities all support spine health. Swimming and yoga are low impact, aerobic exercises, that keep your core and lower back strong. Nerve block injections also can suppress pain for a few months, and medication can be used to ease the pain.

Is Spine Surgery Right for You?

There are always two things I jointly evaluate with my patients who are considering spine surgery:

  • The severity of back pain and/or arm or leg pain. If the pain is not alleviated by non-surgical treatments and has continued for weeks or months, it may be time to see a spine surgeon.
  • Functional ability. If you are not able to complete activities of daily living or the things you love anymore, spine surgery may be an option. The goal of surgery is to improve your level of function and quality of life, and sometimes to lower the risk of it worsening over time.

The Spine Center at Long Beach Medical Center offers a comprehensive program for patients needing spine surgery. Our team of surgeons are highly-trained in the latest complex spine surgery techniques, procedures and technology, including the ExcelsiusGPS®.

Long Beach Medical Center is the only hospital in Orange and South LA Counties to have ExcelsiusGPS — a revolutionary robotic navigation technology that creates a surgical plan based on the patient’s unique anatomy, guiding the robotic arm to a specific region of the spine, similar to a planned pathway on GPS.

Each person is different, and there is no one solution to fit all needs. But at our Spine Center, we pride ourselves on offering the latest treatments to help you find relief. Visit memorialcare.org/SpineSurgery or call 800-MEMORIAL to learn more.

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