What Effects Aging Have on the Cervical Spine?
The cervical spine consists of the seventh cervical vertebra and all vertebrae before it, six intervertebral discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and nerves. Supporting the head’s weight and aiding with its mobility, it is important for transferring electrical signals and blood flow to and from the brain. It is a complex structure.
This article provides an overview of how a cervical spine can change and degenerate as it ages. Usually, these changes cause the spine to hold up just fine for most people for their whole lives, but sometimes its age-related degeneration can lead to pain.
History of the Cervical Spine:
Here is a general process a cervical spine typically goes through:
Birth to age 2.
As an infant, the discs in the cervical spine are round and cushioned with fluid. Vertebral bodies, on the other hand, are spherical in shape and give the appearance of watermelons. After 3 months, cervical lordosis develops as the baby begins to lift his or her head. During the first few years, the head is wobbly as the cervical spine is small and the postural muscles and ligaments are developing. This is why C2-C3 is the segment of the spine that’s most mobile.
Age 2 to 10.
As the cervical discs begin to flatten and the vertebral bodies grow bigger, the cervical lordosis will be large, remaining so until around age 5, then because the spine continues to change and muscle and ligaments can better support the head, the lordosis will be less noticeable.
When people are just in the earliest stages of adolescence, the cervical spine has mostly taken its adult shape, although its size will continue to grow for a few more years. Comparing it to the younger cervical spine, the adolescent spine has less space for nerve roots to exit through the spinal canal’s bony holes, called foramina. The cervical spine changed because in the back portion of the neck, the facet joints angle downward more and there is more bone on them while the nerve root also gets bigger. The most mobile segment of the cervical spine now falls from C2-C3 all the way down to C5-C6 where it remains for the rest of adulthood. All of these factors mean that the neck loses some mobility for increased stability.
After achieving its optimum ability to provide balance for the head and protect the spinal cord with movement, the cervical spine has begun to display some degeneration. All the discs of the cervical spine gradually dry out, the joint between two vertebrae known as the facet joints lose all their protective cartilage, and the cervical spine becomes twisted and pushed forward.
With age, cervical spines, as well as MRI imaging, may show signs of significant degeneration even though most people will feel and notice no symptoms.
Spinal Degeneration: When it’s Serious?
Sometimes, degeneration of the spine can progress to the point of the spine encroaching into the spinal canal, where it might come into contact with the spinal cord, producing myelopathy symptoms such as pain and difficulty walking.
If nerve pain in the neck or spine isn’t addressed by a doctor, permanent nerve damage is possible.
For those looking for treatment of their lower back pain, then Dr. Algendy at Bay State Pain Associates is here to help. Please call (508) 4362555 to schedule an appointment or consultation.
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