Is Back Pain Normal As You Age?
We hear it all the time: I’m getting older, so it’s normal to have aches and pains. But is it really? Your risk of developing back pain increases as you get older, but that doesn’t mean you should accept it as a normal part of aging.
Why does your back start to hurt as you age?
Think about the rest of your body: The older you get, the more fragile you seem to get all over. The same is true for your back. As you age, your spine goes through changes that make it more delicate and susceptible to pain.
For most people, the first back pain symptoms arise between age 30 and 50, and they keep getting worse from there on out. Most of the time, age-related back pain can be attributed to general degeneration. Here’s what age may do to your back.
Age-related back problems
Just like the rest of your body, the structures that make up and support your spine change as you get older. Soft tissues like ligaments and muscles stretch and weaken, often leading to back pain.
You’re also more vulnerable to degenerative conditions that develop over the years, such as:
The discs between each vertebra stabilize your spine, support spinal movement, and absorb shock when you move, whether you’re walking, running, jumping, bending, or twisting.
As you get older, wear-and-tear leads to weak areas in the disc’s outer cover. At first, the weak spot allows the inner layer of gel to bulge out from between the vertebrae. Eventually, the disc ruptures, the gel leaks out, and you have a herniated disc.
Once the disc herniates, you end up with back pain because the spine loses stability, the nerves get pinched, and inflammation develops.
Degenerative disc disease
Over the years, your spinal discs naturally lose moisture. As they dehydrate, they flatten, become less resilient, and fail to support your spine. You end up with localized back pain and compressed nerves.
The joints that connect vertebrae, called facet joints, are just as susceptible to arthritis as the other joints in your body. In fact, osteoarthritis in the lower back affects 30% of adults over the age of 55.
You could also develop ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory form of spinal arthritis. Both types cause progressive joint damage, back pain, and limited movement.
Preventing back pain
It’s never too late to make changes that delay or prevent degenerative back problems. The same healthy habits also relieve back pain caused by an existing or future condition.
Our top preventive recommendations include:
Maintain a healthy body weight
Excess weight adds tremendous pressure to your lower back. For each pound you gain, you add 4 pounds of pressure to your spine when walking and 8 pounds when running. The extra pressure accelerates disc and facet joint degeneration and forces muscles to work harder.
Get regular exercise
Exercise strengthens the core muscles supporting your spine. Maintaining muscle strength and flexibility is one of the best ways to avoid painful back problems.
Getting regular exercise is important for easing the pain of any existing back condition, but it’s especially beneficial if you have arthritis. In addition to alleviating the pain, exercise slows down joint damage, reduces swelling, and improves movement.
While it’s hard to exercise when you’re in pain, we can help. We create a regimen of gentle exercises that fit your overall health, teach you about when to rest to protect your back, and give you tips for modifying daily activities that may cause back pain.
Watch your posture and ergonomics
Poor posture creates uneven pressure on your spine, forcing some muscles to work harder (causing muscle strain) and pushing vertebrae out of alignment. Bad posture alone causes back pain. It also magnifies the pain of degenerative back conditions.
Ergonomics include good posture but also involve the way you move your body. For example, lifting the wrong way is one of the most common causes of lower back pain. Slumping over when you sit also stresses your spine.
When you need help with back pain, we routinely evaluate your posture and recommend exercises or create a physical therapy plan to restore natural posture that supports your spine.
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