The effects of everyday living and aging affect every part of our bodies. And when it comes to the health of our backs—vertebrae, discs, ligaments, muscles etc.—that wear-and-tear can lead to varying degrees of pain and mobility loss as our spines naturally deteriorate. Known most commonly as the “degenerative cascade,” the condition often leads to other problems with the parts of the back and spine in a chain reaction that, for many people, accelerates as they age.
No two people age identically, and therefore the degenerative cascade for each person can take very specific forms. Whereas one person who has experienced back traumas throughout their life may see chronic problems arise while they’re still middle-aged, an elderly individual who maintained perfect spine health throughout their life may never experience pain from back disorders. And of course age isn’t the only factor to consider when charting an individual’s back problems: genetic considerations also figure into the equation, as do unhealthy lifestyles accented by smoking, obesity etc.
When attempting to trace specific disorders that fall into the degenerative cascade spectrum, problems with the vertebral discs figure prominently. When these discs which separate the different sections of the spine—cervical (neck), thoracic (upper torso) and lumbar (lower back)—begin to shrink, the natural ability of the body to twist, bend and turn naturally is impacted. The shrinking occurs as the liquid inside each disc—known as the nucleus pulposis—begins to dissipate and the outer wall of the disc (the annulus fibrosis) dries out and becomes deformed. And as this occurs in more than one disc an individual can actually lose height as the spine slowly compresses.
Additionally, during the wear-and-tear process growths on the bones of the spine can begin to appear, protrusions that can impact the nerves of the spine and cause mild to severe pain depending on the location of the impacted nerves and the degree to which the protrusions are compressing said nerves.