We hear it all the time: I’m getting older, so it’s normal to have aches and pains. But is it really? At Healthy Life Family Medicine, John Monroe, MD, and our team can help you understand what’s normal when it comes to your back pain and how to reduce your chances of this common problem.
How aging affects your back
Nearly 85% of men and women will have some form of neck or back pain during their lifetime. And, unfortunately, your chances of having back pain — especially in the lower part of your back — only increase as you grow older. That’s because the aging process leads to specific changes within your spine.
Your spinal column consists of 33 bones called vertebrae. You have a rubbery pad, or intervertebral disc, in between each of these bones that cushions your vertebrae and keeps them from rubbing against each other. Together, your vertebrae protect your spinal cord and nerves while also allowing flexibility and creating movement in your back.
As you grow older, your intervertebral discs begin drying out, wearing away, and shrinking. When this happens, you can start experiencing more stiffness and pain in your back as your vertebrae start rubbing against each other. It’s also common for the area around your spinal cord to grow more narrow. This condition, known as spinal stenosis, puts pressure on your spinal nerves and cord, which can trigger pain.
Other age-related changes in your back that can cause pain include:
- Osteoporosis, or loss of bone mass
- Loss of muscle strength or elasticity
These expected changes can make mild aches or pains in your back a normal part of the aging process. But they shouldn’t be debilitating, and it doesn’t mean they’re inevitable.
Keeping your back healthy at every age
Once, the standard course of treatment for back pain was rest. Now, we understand that it’s crucial to move your body and strengthen back and abdominal muscles to help keep discomfort at bay. Regular exercise not only reduces your risk of age-related back pain, but it can also prevent additional deterioration if damage already exists.
In addition to engaging in regular exercise and strength training, you can also keep your spine healthy by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Consuming a nutritious diet
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding activities that can cause back strain or injury
- Practicing good posture, body mechanics, and ergonomics
- Following good sleeping habits
- Learning to manage stress
When you’re having back pain — even if it seems mild — you should schedule an appointment as soon as possible to get an accurate diagnosis. The sooner we can identify the cause of your symptoms, the faster we can develop a personalized strategy to address your symptoms and keep your condition from worsening.
To learn more about age-related back pain, contact us by calling Healthy Life Family Medicine or booking an appointment online today.