How to Keep Your Spine Healthy As You Age

How to Keep Your Spine Healthy As You Age

Article Featured on Spine Health Institute

As we get older, it’s not uncommon to experience increased aches, pains and joint stiffness. Many of us assume this discomfort just goes with the territory – and in fact, when it comes to the spine, some decline in function and flexibility may be expected as the bones and intervertebral disks begin to deteriorate over time.

But there are several things you can do right now to help maintain your spine’s flexibility and comfort well into your golden years.

Here’s what you should know about what happens to your spine as you age, common spinal conditions in older adults, and ways to help prevent back pain and injuries in the future.

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Back Pain: Common Spine Problems

Back Pain: Common Spine Problems & Causes of Back Pain

Reviewed By: Tyler Wheeler, MD | Article Featured on

Are you glad you can stand or sit upright? Thank your spine, a stack of little bones called vertebrae along the center of your back, from your seat to your neck. It supports your head, shoulders, and upper body. Your spine plays another key role: The vertebrae make a tunnel for your spinal cord. That’s the set of nerves that connect your brain to most of your body.

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Lumbar Spine Surgery

Article Featured on Spine Health

Lumbar surgery refers to any type of surgery in the lumbar spine, or lower back, between one or more of the L1-S1 levels. There are two general types of lumbar spine surgery that comprise the most common surgical procedures for the lower back:

Lumbar Decompression

The goal of a decompression surgery is usually to relieve pain caused by nerve root pinching. There are two common causes of lumbar nerve root pressure: from a lumbar herniated disc or lumbar spinal stenosis.

This type of pain is usually referred to as a radiculopathy, or sciatica.

A decompression surgery involves removing a small portion of the bone over the nerve root and/or disc material from under the nerve root to relieve pinching of the nerve and provide more room for the nerve to heal. The most common types of decompression surgery are microdiscectomy and laminectomy.

There are also a few alternatives available to the above two standard procedures, such as an X-STOP which is a possible option instead of a laminectomy for lumbar spinal stenosis.

Lumbar Fusion

The goal of a lumbar fusion is to stop the pain at a painful motion segment in the lower back. Most commonly, this type of surgery is performed for pain and disability caused by lumbar degenerative disc disease or a spondylolisthesis.

A spinal fusion surgery involves using a bone graft to stop the motion at a painful vertebral segment, which in turn should decrease pain generated from the joint. Spine surgery instrumentation (medical devices), bone graft procedures, and a bone stimulator are sometimes used along with spinal fusion.

There are also many surgical approaches to performing spinal fusion, such as ALIF, PLIF, XLIF, TLIF, posterolateral gutter fusion, anterior/posterior fusion, and certain minimally invasive approaches.

In addition to the above conditions, decompression and/or spinal fusion may be performed to address other types of lumbar spine pathologies, such as infection or tumors.

Lumbar Spine Surgery Alternatives

In addition to the traditional one-level fusion or decompression surgery that is done for lumbar degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis, respectively, there are a number of surgical alternatives available. Several of the most common ones include:

Artificial Disc Replacement

Artificial disc technology can be used in specific cases of lumbar degenerative disc disease.

Motion Preservation Technologies

It should be known that while spinal fusion has been a classical treatment for ongoing pain and disability from the lumbar spine, alternatives to fusion do exist for posterior conditions (problems in the back of the lumbar spine) such as spinal stenosis. Inserting an interspinous process spacer, such as the X-STOP device, can actually preserve motion as opposed to stopping it via fusion.

Vertebral Augmentation

A surgery called vertebral augmentation may be done to treat pathological fractures from tumors or osteoporosis.

Multilevel Lumbar Fusion

Lumbar spine fusion surgery for symptomatic degenerative disc disease is typically done on one level of the spine (most commonly toward the bottom of the spine, at L5-S1 or L4-L5). In certain cases it may be done on two levels, and only very rarely would it be considered on 3 or more levels. Multilevel spine fusion may be indicated in cases of scoliosis.

There are only two things that surgery can do. Surgery can decompress a nerve root or it can stabilize a painful motion segment. So we have to identify a nerve root that’s pinched or we have to identify a painful motion segment. And if we can do that, that would make you a candidate for surgery. Just having pain and having failed conservative treatment is not an indication for surgery if there is no pathological cause of the pain – it doesn’t mean there’s not pain, but we have to identify the cause of pain in order to be able to correct it. The only thing surgery can do is actually correct an anatomical defect, so we have to be able to identify it.

Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Oregon is an award-winning, board-certified orthopedic group located in downtown Portland Oregon. We utilize both surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors and congenital disorders.

Our mission is to return our patients back to pain-free mobility and full strength as quickly and painlessly as possible using both surgical and non-surgical orthopedic procedures.

Our expert physicians provide leading-edge, comprehensive care in the diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions, including total joint replacement and sports medicine. We apply the latest state-of-the-art techniques in order to return our patients to their active lifestyle.

If you’re looking for compassionate, expert orthopedic surgeons in Portland Oregon, contact OSM today.


1515 NW 18th Ave, 3rd Floor
Portland, OR 97209

8:00am – 4:30pm

What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

By Brian McHugh, MD | Featured on Spine Health

Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back and neck pain, and also one of the most misunderstood.

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6 Low Back Pain Symptoms, Locations, Causes & Treatments

6 Low Back Pain Symptoms, Locations, Causes & Treatments

Article Featured on eMedicineHealth

What Should I Know About Low Back Pain?

What Is the medical definition of low back pain?

Pain in the lower back or low back pain is a common concern, affecting up to 80% of Americans at some point in their lifetime. Many will have more than one episode. Low back pain is not a specific disease, rather it is a symptom that may occur from a variety of different processes. In up to 85% of people with low back pain, despite a thorough medical examination, no specific cause of the pain can be identified.

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Adult Spondylolisthesis in the Low Back

Adult Spondylolisthesis in the Low Back

Article Featured on AAOS

In spondylolisthesis, one of the bones in your spine — called a vertebra — slips forward and out of place. This may occur anywhere along the spine, but is most common in the lower back (lumbar spine). In some people, this causes no symptoms at all. Others may have back and leg pain that ranges from mild to severe.

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How to tell if you have a Herniated Disk

How to tell if you have a Herniated Disk

Article Featured on AAOS

A common source of back or neck pain is a herniated disk. Sometimes called a “slipped” or “ruptured” disk, this condition most often occurs in the lower back, as well as the smaller disks in the neck.

Although a herniated disk can sometimes be very painful, most people feel much better with just a few months of simple, nonsurgical treatments.

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Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures

Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures

Article Featured on AAOS

As we get older, our bones thin and our bone strength decreases. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become very weak and more likely to break. It often develops unnoticed over many years, with no symptoms or discomfort until a bone breaks.

Fractures caused by osteoporosis most often occur in the spine. These spinal fractures — called vertebral compression fractures — occur in nearly 700,000 patients each year. They are almost twice as common as other fractures typically linked to osteoporosis, such as broken hips and wrists.

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Bone Grafts in Spine Surgery

Article Featured on AAOS

Spinal fusion is one of the most common surgeries done in the neck or back. The basic idea is to fuse together painful bones in the spine so that they heal into a single, solid bone. In order for bones to fuse or heal together, additional bone is needed. This additional bone is called a bone graft.

There are many bone graft options today. They are often combined together. The graft that is best for your problem will depend upon which section of your spine needs to be fused, your age, and your general health.

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