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Back Pain—Can You Slow the Aging Spine Process?

Back Pain—Can You Slow the Aging Spine Process?

Neurosurgeon Focuses on Spine Care Tips and Latest Surgical Advances

Our spine plays the leading role in keeping our bodies upright, and it supports our efforts to bend and move around, but many of us don’t think about it until our back hurts. Back pain, particularly as we age, is very common. In fact, it’s one of most common reasons people see a doctor or miss days at work, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“Almost everyone will experience back pain at some point in their life,” said Dr. Rajiv Saigal, a board-certified neurosurgeon with Washington Township Medical Foundation and UCSF researcher and associate professor. “The degeneration and wear and tear on the spine that happens as we age is a big cause of that.”

Dr. Saigal will talk more about this when he presents “The Aging Spine” on Tuesday, April 4, at 2 p.m. The free virtual seminar will take place on Facebook and YouTube. For more information or to register, visit or call 800.963.7070.

The spine is a complex structure made up of 33 stacked bones called vertebrae that form the spinal column, which protects our spinal cord and nerves. Bands of tissue known as ligaments hold the vertebrae in place, and tendons attach the muscles to the spinal column. Intervertebral disks act as shock absorbers for the vertebrae.

“When we think about the spine, it’s not just the bones themselves,” he explained. “There are disks in between each vertebra that are under constant pressure and joints that connect each level. The vertebrae, joints and paraspinal muscles all work together to help us maintain alignment and stand up straight.”

Wear and Tear

Dr. Saigal will discuss what happens to the spine as we age and how it impacts back pain. Over time, everyday stresses on our spine begin to wear out the disks, vertebrae and joints, and weaken the structure.

“I’ll talk about the process of kyphosis that is common in older adults,” he added. “We all start to bend forward to some degree as we age, but sometimes it can be excessive and lead to back pain. I’ll also cover other common degenerative forms of spinal deformity.”

Dr. Saigal said poor posture can accelerate kyphosis and other issues with the back and spine. Other factors can also increase the risk for spine and back problems.

“I’ll explain some of the cultural risk factors in today’s world,” he added. “A lot of people spend their day sitting in front of a computer or phone screen with poor posture. I also see younger people in my clinic who have degenerative spine issues related to their jobs – people who do a lot of heavy lifting or operate heavy machinery, or athletes.”

Protect Your Spine

While it’s not possible to stop the aging process, there are ways to protect our spine and slow down the degeneration of it. Dr. Saigal will provide tips and exercises that can help to maintain a healthy spine.

“These are exercises most people can do at home,” he stressed. “They can help build supportive muscles around the spine.”

If you are having back pain, when is it time to see a doctor? Dr. Saigal will review some “red flags” that signal when you should seek medical care as well as information about some of the latest advances in minimally invasive spine procedures.

“Washington Hospital has a very advanced image navigation system that makes minimally invasive surgeries possible,” he noted. “It allows us to perform many types of spine and brain surgeries through very small incisions, which means shorter hospital stays and faster recovery times.”

For more information about neuroscience services at Washington Hospital, visit