Many people don’t think about age as a factor when considering surgical treatments for back pain, but spinal specialists know that age is one of the many factors that can affect treatment outcomes. When back pain affects older adults, they may need a different type of surgery than someone in their 20s. In this blog post, we will discuss the best treatment for back pain when it is related to an aging spine.
The Aging Spine
As we age, our body goes through a variety of changes, some of which can affect the spine. Aches and pains, unfortunately, are both a part of living and aging. Most people start to experience age-related back pain between the ages of 40-60, however it has been known to start in the 30s for some individuals. Back pain associated with aging can be caused by the following:
The cushions between each vertebrae, known as discs, dry out with age and become less pliable over time. If a disc ruptures, then it can also cause irritation of the nearby nerves. This is a common cause of back pain.
Joints become stiffer and more inflexible as we age- this can contribute to back pain and inflammation. In fact, osteoarthritis of the spine is another common cause of back pain in older adults.
This is a condition where the spinal canal narrows and puts pressure on the nerves. This can cause pain, numbness, and muscle cramping. In most cases, spinal stenosis affects individuals over the age of 65 since it is part of the aging process.
Back Pain and Older Adults: Why Age Matters in Treatment
While back pain in older adults is more likely to be caused by the above-mentioned conditions, this does not mean that all back pain related to aging needs surgical treatment. In fact, many people discover methods of dealing with back discomfort without undergoing surgery at all. Instead, physical therapy, medications, or spinal injections can be used to minimize symptoms.
With that being said there are other cases that may still benefit from surgical treatment. Of course, there are certain risks associated with age that must be carefully evaluated to determine if the benefits of surgical intervention are worth the risks. It also goes without saying that not everyone is a surgical candidate.
With modern advancements in the field of spinal surgery, however, there are now more surgical options available to older adults. For example, open back surgery is no longer the only option. Despite the fact that open back surgery has been found to be one of the most effective ways to treat chronic back pain, it has also been associated with higher complication rates and longer recovery periods in older adults. While some people may still be an ideal candidate for open back surgery, this surgical approach may be too risky for others.
Instead, spinal surgeons are now performing more minimally-invasive spinal surgeries through the use of an endoscope. An endoscope is a small tube with a light and a camera attached. It also has specialized tools that can be placed through the tube and used to perform the surgery. With minimally-invasive spine surgery, the entire surgical procedure can be performed through a few tiny incisions. Because this approach is minimally-invasive, patients have a lower rate of complications, shorter recovery periods, and better treatment outcomes. Most importantly, minimally-invasive spine surgery can usually be performed on otherwise healthy older adults.
To Sum it Up
Back pain can happen at any age, but is more likely to occur in older people as a result of the aging process. As we get older, our back health changes and this may require different types of treatment than someone in their 20s. For chronic back pain that is not responding to conservative treatments, minimally-invasive spinal surgery can be considered as a potential surgical option. However, the only way to know for sure if you qualify is to see an experienced spinal surgeon who performs this technique. If you’re an older adult who needs back pain relief, don’t hesitate to reach out!