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Causes of a herniated nucleus pulposus — aging

A herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP) develops when the inner material of the disc — the nucleus pulposus — begins to push through a weak point in the outer shell — annulus fibrosus — of a spinal disc. This condition, also called a herniated disc, can cause symptoms that are very disruptive to normal life, causing pain and muscle weakness both locally and in the extremities.

Although there are many contributors to this condition, the biggest is probably the natural aging process. This is because with age the discs lose water content, making them less able to absorb the stress being placed on them by weight and regular movement. If you are being affected by this condition, it is possible to get lasting relief that can return you to the people and activities you love. A great first step can be educating yourself about HNP and aging so you can be a more active, involved patient in the treatment process.

How aging causes spinal degeneration

As we grow older, the parts that support our neck and back naturally begin to deteriorate. This deterioration is normal and accounts for the loss of flexibility and many of the aches and pains that come with advancing age. One of the biggest effects of aging is that the body begins to dry out, making joints and connective tissue more brittle and prone to wearing out.

This condition also affects the spinal discs, which lie between the vertebrae, cushioning them so the spine can bend and flex with minimal friction. Like the joints, the annulus fibrosus can become dry and brittle, making it less elastic and able to absorb the pressure being placed on it. This can lead to cracks and tears that can cause the nucleus pulposus to push out disproportionately against this weak area.

Herniated nucleus pulposus occurs when inner material begins to push out through a tear or rupture in the annulus fibrosus. Symptoms like pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness can result if displaced disc material puts pressure on the spinal cord or a nerve root.

Treatment options

If a patient is diagnosed with HNP, a course of conservative, nonsurgical treatment is usually first recommended. Commonly recommended methods include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Low-impact exercise
  • Healthy lifestyle choices like weight management and posture improvement
  • Adequate rest
  • Hot and cold compression therapy

If surgery is ever recommended because these and other options have not brought relief after being fully exhausted, be sure to explore the full range of surgical options. At USA Spine Care we offer minimally invasive spine surgery as a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine procedures.^

To learn more, reach out to our designated team of Patient Empowerment Consultants today for a no-cost MRI review* to help you determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

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