Its inevitable and none of us like to think of it too much but with advancing age comes changes to our bodies which aren’t always welcome. These physiological changes, as well as a shift in lifestyle can leave us vulnerable to back pain.
In a 1998 Office of National Statistics study, 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women over the age of 65 suffered back pain for 12 months or more compared with 1 in 12 men and women between the ages of 25 and 44. Common causes of back pain in the over 60s are osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and degenerative disc disease.
Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage (soft, spongy tissue which provides cushioning and protection of the joints) to become thin and brittle. This, in turn causes thickening of the bone underneath to compensate and bits of cartilage may break off, resulting in bones rubbing against each other. Joints may feel stiff and painful as a result.
Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle. With advancing age comes a decrease in our bone density which can lead to osteoporosis in some people. Most at risk are post-menopausal women due to hormonal changes. Occasionally, the vertebrae in the spine can collapse, causing a hump at the top of the spine or loss of height which, in turn will result in back pain.
Degenerative Disc Disease is a term to describe the breaking down of the discs, the fluid-filled discs which separate the vertebrae in the spine. It is not, in fact, a disease. As we age, we experience loss of fluid in the discs, making then thinner and narrower and less able to act as shock-absorbers in the spine. Sometimes, the outer layer of the disc may tear, leading to bulging of the disc (sometimes referred to as a ‘slipped disc’).
Fear not, though, it’s not all doom and gloom. Although all three conditions are a result of the normal aging process, there is plenty we can do to ease the symptoms and prevent their onset.
1. Maintain a healthy weight
It goes without saying that the more a person weighs, the more strain their joints take. If you are overweight, losing excess weight will decrease the rate of progression once a condition has set in and help prevent it happening in the first place.
The stronger our muscles, the more capable they are of supporting our joints. Speak to a sports therapist or physiotherapist about exercises to build strength in the muscles supporting your back. Pilates and core strengthening techniques are ideal for aiding support of the spine. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking or aerobics can help maintain bone density.
3. Ensure a good diet
Eat a healthy, balanced diet, avoid excessive alcohol consumption and drink plenty of fluids. This will certainly help with disc degeneration, to avoid dehydration of the discs. Calcium is vital for bone health. Dairy products are a good source of calcium, as are green, leafy vegetables. If you feel as though you’re not getting adequate calcium in your diet, supplements can be bought. It is advisable to check with your GP before taking supplements.
4. Don’t smoke
Smoking compromises oxygen levels and blood supply. If discs are already at risk of dehydration, smoking can make symptoms worse.
For further advice or specific exercises, please feel free to leave a comment.