spinal disorder among the elderly people

It is the most common physical pain suffered by ageing population in India and world over. A study in USA has said that about 65 million there suffer from degenerative spinal disorder and 85% complain of it after crossing 55.

Spine and neurosurgeons say 6-7 out of every 10 Indians post-50 years of age complain about this disorder, which is commonly known as pain in the lower back or cervical spondylitis.

Here is some hope: spinal disorder among the elderly is curable with surgery and post-surgery exercise, say doctors. Seventy-one-year-old Dr Stephen Churchill Kitchener, a general surgeon from Zaria in Nigeria who has overcome the disorder, is now able to walk and stand erect.

Stephen, who runs a hospital back home, complained of severe pain in the lower back and could not stand or walk straight for long. This also affected his medical practice for about four years. He then approached doctors at Fortis Hospital in December.

"In his case, age was the main factor. His spine bones had aged and he had developed degenerative spondylitis of the cervix. The nerves between neck and back had narrowed. He was first put on medication and then operated through four-segment instrumental stabilization procedure," said Dr KN Krishna, consultant neurosurgeon at the hospital.

"Aging spine problems make people immobile at times leaving them in semi- or fully paralysed state. It can be treated if treatment is given at the right time," he added.

Said Dr Thimappa Hegde, director, Narayana Institute of Neurosciences: "Degenerative spinal disorder is the most common problem suffered by the old. Sometimes it can lead to disc collapse, which can make a person temporarily immobile. The problem is commonly faced by women post-menopause. Surgery is a better option than long-term medication."

Spinal surgeries are said to be more beneficial than oral medication and physiotherapy because they improve quality of life as the patient is no more dependent for routine activities.

"Most patients in the older age group get tired of prolonged medication. So surgery is the best option. At least 4 out of 10 aged patients agree to undergo surgery," said Dr Bhushan Joseph, spine and neurosurgeon, Hosmat Hospital.


Sharp and/or chronic pain, weakness, limited motion, sensory loss

If spinal degeneration leads to compression or injury of the spinal cord, weakness and limited motion may increase significantly

Loss of bladder and bowel functions and problems with sexual function may occur if problem worsens


Aging most common cause

As the body ages, discs in the spine dry out and lose their ability to act as shock absorbers between the vertebral bodies

Unlike muscles, there is minimal blood supply to the discs, so they lack reparative powers

Post-surgery care

Complete rest for about 6 weeks

Avoid excessive bending or sitting on the floor and standing or walking for long

After 6 weeks, can start routine activities

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