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Normal Aging Spine Aged Spine Comparison
Normal Aging Spine Healthy Spine
Normal Aging Spine Healthy Spine side view
Normal Aging Spine Healthy Vertebrae and disks
Normal Aging Spine Healthy Vertebrae and disks
Normal Aging Spine Healthy Vertebrae and disks
Normal Aging Spine Schmorl's Node, disk dessication, loss of joint space and disk herniation (3D view)
Normal Aging Spine Schmorl's Node, disk dessication, loss of joint space and disk herniation (Lateral MRI spine)
Normal Aging Spine Schmorl's Node, disk dessication, loss of joint space and disk herniations (Lateral MRI spine 2)
Normal Aging Spine Schmorl's Node, disk dessication, loss of joint space and disk herniations (Lateral MRI spine 3)
Normal Aging Spine Normal facet joint
Normal Aging Spine Facet joint degeneration
Normal Aging Spine Facet joint degeneration and capsular laxity
Normal Aging Spine Bone hypertrophy
Normal Aging Spine Facet joint degeneration (Axial MRI)
Normal Aging Spine Sagital MRI full spine (early degenerative changes)
Normal Aging Spine AP lumbar spine Xray. Severe degenerative changes.
Normal Aging Spine Lateral lumbar spine Xray. Severe degenerative changes.

Normal Aging of the Spine

Degeneration of the spinal column and its associated constituents is part of the normal aging of the spine.  Some research has shown that the intervertebral discs even begin to degenerate in the second decade of life1.

The reason for this early degeneration relates to the relative poor vascularisation of the discs, but there are many other contributing factors.

The natural history of the aging spine has been divided up into three stages:

 

Dysfunction

  • Initial stage is dehydration due to loss of the proteoglycan content of the nucleus.
  • Typically occurring between 15-45 years.
  • Early degenerative changes are characterised by circumferential or radial tears to the annulus.  Can be associated with synovitis of the facet joints.
     

Instability

  • Typically occurring between 35-70 years.
  • There is disruption of the disc, re-absorption and subsequent loss of height.
  • The facet joints degenerate and this is associated with capsular laxity and subluxation.
     

Stabilisation

  • Progressive development of hypertrophic bone around the discs and facet joints leaded to relative stability of the intervertebral discs.
     

References:

  1. Horner HA, Urban JPG, Effects of Nutrient Supply on the Viability of Cells from the Nucleus Pulposus of the Intervertebral Disc: 2001 Volvo Award in Basic Science. Spine 2001; 26(23): 2543-2549