The back, knees and hips, and other joints are the three most reported areas of pain among seniors. And lower back pain is the second most common reason Americans see their healthcare provider.
The lumbar region (lower back) of the spine is where most back problems occur. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in one study that more than 25 percent of adults had experienced lower back pain in the previous three months. Here are some of the causes of back pain and tips for preventing or reducing its effects.
Causes of Back Pain
Acute and chronic back pain may result from a number of issues, such as a pair of ill-fitting shoes or cumulative damage from degenerative diseases. Back pain among older adults often results from arthritic processes in the spine that occur gradually over time. Medications may also weaken the spine.
The various causes of acute back pain include an injury or a lack of fall safety, a herniated disc, compression fractures, or an infection or fracture of the spine. Among other things, chronic back pain may result from:
- Overuse or improper use of the back muscles
- Certain surgeries
- Curvature of the spine (scoliosis)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal stenosis (deterioration of the spine)
Preventing Back Pain
Back pain may not always be preventable, but its effects and progression can be reduced. Taking measures to lessen back pain can improve senior health in other ways, too. The body is a dynamic machine, and movement helps it remain healthy. The easiest activity for most people is walking — keeping fall safety in mind. Some other things you can do to prevent back pain or keep its symptoms in check include:
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk of osteoporosis. It can also reduce blood flow to the spine and slow the healing process.
- Lose weight. Think of all the things your back carries. Extra weight can magnify that load, making your back muscles work harder.
- Get active. In addition to regular exercise, consult with your doctor and a fitness trainer to learn stretches and exercises for your back and supporting muscles.
- Improve your diet. Staying hydrated and eating lean protein, leafy vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods helps you lose weight and strengthen your body. Ask your doctor before starting any new diet. You may also want to discuss calcium and vitamin D supplements to promote bone health.
- Reduce stress. Stress can cause or exacerbate back pain. Options for combating it include exercise, medication and yoga, hobbies, and counseling if necessary.
- Learn low back mechanics. Acute attacks of back pain can often be avoided by learning to lift and carry objects with minimal strain on the back. Don’t lift heavy objects without assistance, bend your knees while lifting, avoid sudden twists, and carry heavy objects as close to your chest as possible.
- Learn fall safety strategies. Many falls related to back pain are preventable. In the event that a fall does occur, technologies that call for help are one way to help keep you safe.
Understanding the causes of back pain and how to prevent it can preserve your safety and improve your quality of life. However, back pain sometimes indicates a serious medical condition. If you’ve experienced back pain for any length of time or have had a sudden onset, talk to your healthcare provider.