The theme of BackCare Awareness Week this year (8th-12th October 2018) is ‘Back Pain in Older Adults’. BackCare states, ‘Back pain is one of the major disabling health conditions among older adults aged 60 years and older. Many causes of lower back pain are age-related with physical and psychosocial changes. There is a distinct lack of awareness, especially in older adults to the causes and effects of back pain and pain management.’ BackCare hopes to shine a light on the subject during its BackCare Awareness week this year (2018), so we thought we’d offer our thoughts on back pain and aging.
Existing evidence suggests that prevalence rates of severe and chronic low back pain increase with older age. As compared to working-age adults, older adults are more likely to develop lower back pain like osteoporotic vertebral fractures, tumors, spinal infection, and lumbar spinal stenosis. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Back pain is currently referred to as an epidemic – certainly in the UK. Most people will experience back pain at some point in their lives (a reported 60-80%), and unfortunately the age bracket seems to be dropping. By far the largest contributing factors are posture and lifestyle (increasingly sedentary due to work pressures, studying and exam pressures and the rise in technology/handheld devices). But there are other causes, such as: weight, diet, smoking, health conditions and specific spinal diseases, but over and above all of these, is aging! This can be termed another way, says Rob Grace Chiropractor, “It is just wear and tear! But some people are just harder on their back than others!”
But what is wear and tear, and what can we do to reduce it / slow the onset of pain?
There can be many reasons for the back pain a person experiences, generating from dysfunction in the vertebral column, facet joints, sacro-illiac joint, and causing pain due to conditions such as arthritis, stenosis, osteoporosis or muscular tension.
Typically, as a person ages, the discs between their vertebrae shrink (lose their plumpness), at the same time the joint may become nodular and rough (due to degeneration) and together this means that bone meets bone and can cause pain through arthritis. It can also contribute to causing spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the space around the spinal cord. This will put pressure on the cord, causing pain, either with movement or constantly.
Osteoporosis is caused by decreased bone mass and this will make the vertebrae more susceptible to fractures (osteoporosis itself is not a cause of pain)
If a person has injured their spine, through a trauma such as a fall or car accident, this could accelerate the onset of arthritis. (This is true for any area of the body that has suffered injury/trauma in the past).
How to Manage Back Pain?
Initially – reduce activities that aggravate the pain (such as sitting, certain exercises) and seek professional advice. A chiropractor is qualified to assess, diagnose and treat disfunction of the spine and it is their profession’s specialist area. Osteopaths and physiotherapists will also treat back pain issues.
Once you have received an assessment/diagnosis, and treatment is helping to reduce your pain, you can look to improve your recovery and maintain good back health by including massage (to keep your muscles in optimal condition) and exercise (such as yoga or pilates) into your lifestyle.
Can Back Pain Be Prevented?
‘Motion is medicine’, ‘move well, live well’, there are many quotes out there regarding movement and they are all true! Staying active/mobile is a key factor in maintaining your spinal health and this goes hand in hand with posture. Combining good posture and regular movement/exercise, your back and body will age better. Diet will also have an impact.
Here are some tips for delaying the inevitable wear and tear on your spine:
• Posture – when both sitting and standing
• Avoid sitting or standing still for extended periods of time
• Maintain a healthy diet
• Keep your weight gain to a minimum
• Maintenance health care appointments (monthly massage or chiropractic appointment)
• Exercise (including some postural work for a strong core and flexibility)
• Wherever possible work to reduce stress and overuse of your back
Other Considerations with Chronic Back Pain
We don’t advise the use of pain relief to simply mask pain, but if you are having treatment, making yourself comfortable is not discouraged.
Steroid injections – if you are not seeing an improvement from manual therapy and exercise, injections would be a possible next option.
Surgery would be a final option and you would need to discuss options with a surgeon, such as spinal fusion, discectomy. We can advise you on surgeons within the region.