The United States Census Bureau estimates that, on average, American adults will live to age 85.6 by 2060 — a six-year jump from the average lifespan of 79.7 years in 2017. That’s great news if you’re in good health, but age has a way of wearing down your body parts, especially in your spine.
Lower back pain is the most common musculoskeletal complaint among older adults, often leading to disability. Dr. Jay M. Shah often sees the negative effects of aging on spines here at SamWell Institute for Pain Management in Colonia and Livingston, New Jersey, and uses the most innovative technology and advanced techniques to treat common and complex lower back problems, including:
- Spinal cord stimulation
- Radiofrequency neurotomy
- Superion® InterSpinous Spacer (Vertiflex) for spinal stenosis
We blend conservative treatments, such as physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, with epidural steroid injections and minimally invasive surgery to repair the underlying cause of your lower back pain and help you live a long life, free to move as you please.
However, we’d much rather help you prevent lower back pain as you age, so we’ve compiled this brief guideline of common low back pain causes and how to avoid them.
How advancing age affects your lower back
Since low back pain is so common among older adults, it’s easy to assume that aches and limited mobility are inevitable facts of aging — and to some degree, that’s true.
Over time, the cushiony, protective discs between your bony vertebrae lose moisture, so they shrink, wear down, crack, bulge, and rupture, a condition called a herniated disc.
Time also wears down the cartilage in your spinal joints, causing osteoarthritis, a painful condition that stiffens your joints.
Without your healthy discs and cartilage providing space between your vertebrae, your bones rub together, and the friction creates growths called bone spurs that protrude and compress or irritate nearby nerves.
Bone spurs and herniated discs can significantly encroach upon the space in your spinal canal, as can thickening ligaments, leading to lumbar spinal stenosis — narrowing of the spine.
Osteoporosis robs your bones of their youthful density and leaves them vulnerable to fractures.
Finally, loss of muscle mass and lack of exercise weaken your body and cause you to rely on the wrong muscles to support your activity. For example, weak core muscles in your abdomen force your back muscles to engage in lifting, which can strain them.
How to prevent age-related lower back pain
Preventing lower back pain as you age is up to you. Except for traumatic accidents and genetics, you have much control over your back health. Here are Dr. Shah’s best tips for avoiding low back pain.
Eat a healthy diet
Proper nutrition gives your body the fuel it needs to protect itself from injury and disease.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese puts excess strain on your lower back.
The chemicals in tobacco damage your blood vessels and decrease your oxygen flow, starving your spine of essential nutrients.
Practice good posture
Whether sitting, standing, or walking, how you hold your body matters. Dr. Shah can teach you about proper body alignment and ergonomics.
Restorative sleep is essential to all aspects of your health, including your lower back. During sleep, your body repairs itself and generates new cells. Plus, facing the day without enough sleep puts you at risk for falls and other accidents.
Avoid back-straining activities
Some activities put your back at risk more than others. For example, lifting groceries or a heavy grandchild can strain your back, but Dr. Shah can demonstrate good lifting techniques.
Stress puts your whole body on alert, which can take its toll over time, compromising your heart health and your musculoskeletal system.
You don’t have to live with lower back pain just because you’re getting older; contact us at SamWell Institute for Pain Management online or by phone to schedule a consultation with Dr. Shah.