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How to Keep Your Spine Healthy

It is not uncommon to experience increased aches, pains and joint stiffness as we age. hen it comes to the spine, some decline in function and flexibility may be expected.

Here’s what you should know about what happens to your spine as you age, and ways to help prevent back pain and injuries. Common spinal conditions in older adults may manifest themselves in symptoms such as early morning back pain, leg pain when standing and walking, loss of height and more.
  • Spinal arthritis develops as the cartilage separating the facet joints gradually breaks down over time. Symptoms include low back pain and stiffness that seem worse in the morning and at the end of the day, including after an extended period of physical activity.  Osteoarthritis may also cause radiating leg pain known as sciatica.
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, resulting in low back and leg pain that characteristically occurs while standing or walking but dissipates once you sit down or lean forward. Pain may also occur with symptoms of sciatica including tingling and numbness in the buttocks and legs.
  • Disk degeneration and narrowing of the spinal canal may occur as the natural part of the aging process. These changes cause spaces in the spine to narrow and press against the spinal nerves. Many people with spinal stenosis also have spondylolisthesis, where one spine bone “slips” forward over the one below. Nerve pressure from these conditions can result in leg pain, tingling, or numbness that gets worse when walking or standing, and improves when sitting or bending forward.
While not all back pain can be avoided, it is never too late to start protecting yourself against preventable spine problems.  This starts with exercising regularly to keep off excess weight and strengthen the core muscles in your back and abdomen.
  • Strengthen your core muscles through targeted exercises including aerobics, and stretching.
  • Practice proper posture and make necessary ergonomic adjustments.
  • Avoid lifting objects that are heavier than 25% of your body weight.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods and vitamin D to keep your bones strong.
  • If you are a smoker - stop smoking!
  • Consider purchasing a more supportive mattress or try a new sleeping position.
  • Find ways to relax and loosen your back and neck muscles at the end of each day.
  • Be practical about your exercise routine and avoid overdoing it with repetitive movements that can lead to muscle strains and sprains.
If you suffer from chronic back pain or conservative treatments are no longer working, consult a spine specialist like the physicians at Boulder Neurosurgical & Spine Associates.  Learn about what could be causing your pain and possible treatment options.  Recurring and debilitating back pain is never normal and can be mitigated with the right assistance. Editor’s Note:  This article was written by Alan Villavicencio, MD. Dr. Villavicencio is a physician with Boulder Neurosurgical & Spine Associates and may be reached at 303-938-5700, or by email at:    

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Colorado - Boulder County