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Degenerative Disc Disease and Spinal Osteoarthritis are Already Present at Age 40

Spine Disk (NIH)

One Third of People Ages 40-59 had Degenerative Disc Disease and more than Half had  Spinal Osteoarthritis

A study published in the Spine Journal by the Hebrew Senior Life Institute for Aging Research and Boston Medical Center reveals that a third of people ages 40-59 were found to have moderate to severe imaging evidence of degenerative disc disease and more than half had moderate to severe spinal osteoarthritis.

Seniors Ages 60-69 and 70-89

Imaging showed that disc height narrowing and joint osteoarthritis increased two to four times in seniors ages 60-69 and 70-89.

Conditions Worse in Women than Men

The increase and worsening of all of these conditions occurred 40-70% more often in women than in men.

The Framingham Spine Health Study

The Framingham Spine Health Study is based on Data Collected from Families and their descendants who were Living in Framingham, Massachusetts from the 1940s. The researchers used CTs taken six years apart on 1200 people to calculate the degree and severity of disc degeneration and spinal osteoarthritis.

The Study was Carried out to Learn More about the Progression of Disc Degeneration in the Spine

The author of the study, Dr. Elizabeth Samelson, said that even though disc degeneration, disc height narrowing and joint osteoarthritis are common causes of back pain with reduced function and extra medical costs for seniors, very little was known about the frequency of these diseases and how they progress in the general population. For these reasons the study was carried out.

The Institute for Aging Research (IFAR)

The purpose for the research that scientists carry out at the Institute for Aging Research IFAR) is to learn more about age related disabling diseases, to find cures, interventions and treatments in order to make the aging experience more dignified, productive and healthy. Also, they make these reports known so that they can influence public decision-making to better serve the needs of the aging population all over the world.

The Musculoskeletal Research Center within IFAR

In particular, the Musculoskeletal Research Center within IFAR carries out studies about the age-related health and disease conditions that affect bone, muscle, and joint health. These can cause considerable pain to seniors, as well as lead to disability and even death. In fact, musculoskeletal problems are the main reason seniors seek medical help. Some of these conditions are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Hyperkyphosis (excessive forward curvature)
  • Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass)
  • Foot Disorders
  • Biomechanics of the skeletal system.

Three Main Studies at the Musculoskeletal Research Center are:

  1. The Framington Spine Health Study
  2. The Framington Foot Study
  3. The Framington Osteoporosis Study

Hebrew Senior Life

Hebrew Senior Life is affiliated with Harvard Medical School and is based in Boston. The roots of this non-sectarian non-profit organization go back to 1903 and their aims are to provide health care for seniors, carry our research about aging, to offer seniors dynamic living communities and to give educational guidance for geriatric care.


Seniors should not wait until they are over age 65 to begin to take care of their backs and spines. Imaging in this study showed that degenerative changes in discs and osteoarthritis of the spine were already visible at age 40. Back pain should not be ignored, as medical intervention can sometimes stop or retard the degeneration of discs in the spine. Chiropractic or osteopathic treatments may also help.


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