5 Ways to Protect Your Spine from Age-Related Damage

5 Ways to Protect Your Spine from Age-Related Damage

Getting older means age-related damage to many parts of your body, including your spine. But the damage isn’t an inevitable result of aging. There are things you can do to prevent age-related damage from taking place.

At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, osteopathic physician Dr. Richard Bernstein and his staff treat all age-related spine damage. They know that preventing problems from occurring is far better than treating them after the fact, which is why they’ve put together this guide on five ways you can protect your spine from age-related damage.

Types of age-related spine damage

Wear-and-tear over time can lead to several problems with the spine.

The two most prevalent conditions are degenerative disc disease (DDD) and osteoarthritis.

DDD affects the intervertebral discs that sit between vertebrae in the spinal column and absorb the shock of movement. Forty percent of people aged 40 exhibit some degree of disc degeneration, increasing to 80% for those 80 and older.

Over time, the discs change from being composed mostly of water to mostly of fat, making them narrower and less elastic. As they flatten out, they can compress nerve roots in the spinal canal, causing pain, numbness, and tingling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates 23% of American adults have some form of arthritis. The spine primarily affects the facet joints that attach one vertebra to the others just above and below it in the column. Swelling from inflammation reduces the spine’s range of motion, and the joints can also impinge on the spinal nerves.

As the facet joint cartilage degrades over time, the bones come in contact with each other. As they rub together, the friction can give rise to bone spurs, bony growths that can also impinge on nearby nerves.

The ligaments around and within the spine stiffen with age, too, reducing range of motion and causing stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that houses the spinal cord and peripheral nerve roots. And osteoporosis, a loss of bone density brought on by changes in hormones, can lead to spontaneous compression fractures in the vertebrae, causing great pain.

5 ways to protect your spine from age-related damage

The Cleveland Clinic recommends these five ways to protect your spine.

1. Stay physically active

As the saying goes, “motion is lotion,” and that’s especially true for the spine. Exercise keeps your spine limber, increases blood flow to the muscles, strengthens your cardiovascular system, helps you lose unwanted pounds, and allows you to heal faster, including recovering from back pain.

2. Do physical therapy

Dr. Bernstein can help you develop a back-healthy exercise program to gain strength while improving balance and flexibility. And strengthening your back and abdominal muscles — your “core” — makes your spine more resilient. Aerobics and flexion and extension (bending forward and backward, respectively) stretches are good for strengthening the core.

3. Watch your posture

Your spine is curved to equally distribute the weight of your head and upper body, allowing you to stand up straight. When you slouch or consistently bend your neck forward to look at your phone, screen, or tablet (a condition called “tech neck”), you unduly stress your spine and the soft tissues that support it, leading to pain, weakness, and wear-and-tear damage.

Make sure your workstation is set up ergonomically, so your feet are flat on the floor, your thighs are parallel to the floor, you have lumbar support on your chair, and your eyes are level with your screen.

4. Lift appropriately

Avoid lifting objects heavier than 25% of your body weight. If you have a job requiring you to bend and lift all day, make sure to take frequent breaks, do some gentle stretches, and always lift from your knees, not from your back.

5. Eat for health

Eat a balanced diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods, such as tomatoes, olive oil, and leafy greens, and take a vitamin D supplement if your levels are low to keep your bones strong.

If despite your preventive efforts, you develop age-related spine degeneration, Dr. Bernstein offers osteopathic manipulation, regenerative medicine, and spinal decompression to help relieve the pain and heal the damage.

Want more tips on how to protect your spine from age-related damage? Schedule a consultation with Dr. Bernstein at Santa Cruz Osteopathic. Give the office a call at 831-464-1605, or book online with us today.

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