The Natural Aging Process of the Spine
The term degeneration simple means that after we reach the age of our physical maturity, the cells of our body do not grow at the same rate as the ones that are being broken down. As we are growing, the cells of our body that make up our bones and tissues grow at a faster rate than the ones that are destroyed after becoming worn out. With some exceptions, all of our body's cells become worn out and are destroyed after working properly for a period of time. When these cells become worn out, they are destroyed, and their contents are recycled in order to make new, healthy cells to replace them. Both the processes of destroying cells and creating new cells to replace the old ones are healthy and natural. When we are growing and moving towards physical maturity, the rate of growth of cells exceeds the rate at which the old cells become worn out, destroyed, and recycled. As we reach physical maturity, the rate of growth is equal to the rate of cell destruction. Beginning just after our spinal column reaches its mature size, the rate of cell destruction exceeds the rate of cell growth. This by definition means degeneration, and it can apply to the spinal cord as well as all the other musculoskeletal structures of the body.
Degeneration is a part of the natural aging process. All people have degenerative changes to their spine, beginning at about the age of 25, when the ligaments begin to get tighten, the discs have a harder time retaining water, and the bones become smaller. This process is normal, and often a healthy one. By healthy, I mean that though all people have degenerative changes to their spine as they get older, not all people experience back pain or loss of mobility. Even a large percentage of people that have disc herniations in their back to not experience back pain changes in nerve sensations. The people that do experiences symptoms of back pain due to structural abnormalities to their spine often get better, as 90% of people with back pain do not experience back pain as a chronic condition. In fact, more than 90% of people with chronic back pain get better with little of no medical intervention.
It's interesting that for some people, degenerative changes to the spine may be ultimately advantageous; by the time most people have reached the sixth or seventh decade of life, the degenerative changes of the spine render it less flexible, more stable and less susceptible to both injury and pain. According to the statistics, the majority of back pain patients are in their late twenties, thirties, forties, and early 50s. Back pain, according to many doctors and chiropractors, tends to get better with age, as opposed to worse.
Many of the degenerative changes to our spines mimic the age related changes to our skin as we get older. As we age, our skin becomes less supple, and our skin begins to sag and dry out. Tiny lines begin to form begin to appear around our eyes, and on our forehead. Our skin begins to lose its elasticity and taughtness, and begins to loosen. By the same token, the discs that separate our vertebrae begin to lose their moisture and ability to retain water. One side of the disc of vertebral bones becomes weaker than the other.