Aging Doesn’t Have to Mean Back Pain
The normal process of aging often brings with it an increase in aches, pains, and overall stiffness of the spine. Many people believe that this is an inevitable consequence of getting older, but this isn’t necessarily true.
As we age, the condition of the spine changes due to genetic predisposition and our physical environment, and some pain may be expected. Like any other part of the body, the spine is subjected to everyday stresses that wear down its structures over time. The discs that cushion the spine’s vertebrae begin to decrease in size and wear down as moisture content is reduced. As a result, the bones of the vertebrae begin to rub against one another, creating friction and leading to pain and stiffness.
At the same time, the column that protects the spinal cord may begin to compress over time. When this happens the tunnels through which the nerve roots exit the spine start to narrow (a condition called spinal stenosis). This causes pain to the lower back and legs due to the resulting compression of the spinal cord and nerves. These conditions can be further accelerated if you have a prior spinal injury, use tobacco products, or if your daily activities subject your spine to more wear and tear than normal. Common spinal issues in older people may cause early morning back pain, leg pain while standing or walking, as well as loss of height.
Protecting Yourself Against Spinal Problems
The time to start protecting yourself against avoidable spinal problems is now. There are numerous things you can do today that will help maintain your spine’s flexibility and wellbeing as you age. Here are some tips to help keep your back in shape:
- Allow your spine to completely rest while you sleep by buying a more supportive mattress or trying out a new sleeping position.
- Avoid putting extra stress on your spine by practicing good posture.
- Avoid lifting objects that are too heavy, and always use correct bending, turning, and lifting techniques. Ask your physical therapist to demonstrate what these motions look like when done correctly.
- Strengthen your abdominals and back muscles with a regular core workout that includes stability, as well as flexion and extension stretches.
- Wear shoes that provide support for your back.
- Seek help if you experience depression, which can play a role in back pain.
- Eat a balanced diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods like berries, black cod, bok choy, and ginger, and consider taking a vitamin D supplement to help keep your bones strong.
- Get regular manual therapy to help identify pain and reduce stiffness.
- Keep mobile devices at chest or eye level to decrease neck and back stress.
- Walk at a brisk pace, maintaining an upright posture.
- Limit sitting time, and practice proper ergonomics, particularly when you are sitting for extended periods.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, exercise is extremely therapeutic and just a few minutes each day is all you need to perform some simple spine-strengthening exercises and neck stretches that can dramatically enhance the health of the cervical spine. Any exercise program should be designed to provide maximum benefits with the lowest risk of aggravating a pre-existing health or physical condition.
Are you becoming concerned about the health of your spine as you age? Visit one of our 150+ physical therapy clinics for advice on maintaining better posture, toning the surrounding muscles, and eating the right foods to support your back for many years to come.