Is Minimally Invasive Surgery Right for Your Aging and Aching Back?

Dr. Kaixuan Liu

By the age of fifty, almost everyone will have degenerative changes that show up on an MRI.

Back pain is as common as it is frustrating. Almost everyone experiences back pain at some point and while most episodes will resolve with self-care within a few weeks, back pain can become chronic and disabling for many. “The back is a complex structure and there are many causes of back pain,” says Dr. Kaixuan Liu, chief surgeon at the Atlantic Spine Center. “Muscles, ligaments, nerves and the bony architecture of the spine can all be the source of pain and the wear and tear of simply using our backs over many years causes troublesome changes in spinal anatomy.” By the age of fifty, almost everyone will have degenerative changes that show up on an MRI. As these changes progress, there is a narrowing of the spinal canal and pressure on the nerves that exit the spine causing the symptoms of spinal stenosis, one of the most common age-related back conditions.

Spinal stenosis develops over years. Most cases occur in the lower (lumbar) spine and affect the nerves that go to the legs. Lumbar stenosis is generally preceded by one or more common degenerative conditions affecting the discs that act as shock-absorbing cushions between the vertebrae in the spine. Each disc has a strong, fibrous outer ring and a soft, gel-like center. With age, the discs weaken and the soft material inside the disc may bulge out of place or rupture. Over time, disc problems and other degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis and bone spurs cause a gradual narrowing of the spinal canals through which the nerves pass, putting pressure on the nerves and causing the characteristic symptoms of stenosis: numbness, tingling, or pain that…

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