By: Dr. Beth Templin
Back pain is one of the most common pain issues affecting older adults. It's concerning because it often results in disability and loss of independence if left unaddressed.
Why are aging adults more prone to back pain issues as they age? We commonly see two major factors that play a role in creating back pain. The first is weakness of your core muscles.
The second one is stiffness and weakness in your hips. The good news is both of these can be improved with the right kind of exercises, helping you to avoid surgery and reduce the need for pain medications and injections.
Let's take a closer look at each of these contributing factors. Your core muscles are made up of more than just your abs. Your core muscles are responsible for supporting your trunk and allowing for movements such as bending forward, backwards, sideways and twisting. These muscles include the 4 layers of your abdominals in the front and side of your body, the deep muscles in your back and pelvic floor on the bottom. As you age, these muscles don't get exercised often and become weak as a result.
Your abdominals are supposed to help act like a corset, supporting your spine. When the abdominal muscles get weak from inactivity or stretched out from weight gain, they can't work properly. As these muscles become too weak, you start to overuse your back muscles for increased support of the spine. This means that the back muscles are working overtime to do the work of both, which leads to increased incidence of injury.
We see a similar pattern when looking at the hips. It's common for the hip muscles to get weaker with age. When this happens your body starts to use your back muscles to help with activities such as standing, walking, and doing the stairs. Again, the back muscles are doing the work of two major muscles groups, placing you at a higher risk of injury with this constant overuse.
Another issue we commonly come across is stiffness of the hips with age. When the hips lose their flexibility it becomes harder to bend over to pick up things, to put on socks and shoes, to sit properly on our "sit bones". The body still needs to perform these moves daily, so we become hyper-mobile in our spine to allow for the full motion needed to achieve the task. By doing this we are placing extra stress on our spine, which leads to pain issues.
So what can you do to help decrease or prevent back pain? Maintaining a strong core and strong, flexible hips is a good start. Other factors also play a role including how you sit, the position you sleep and how you lift and carry heavy loads. All of these areas can easily be addressed by a physical therapist to help you manage pain and improve your quality of life.
Living life with back pain is not a normal part of aging. For most of us, it's due to years of inactivity and weakness in our core and hip muscles. Since back pain can be so debilitating, it's better to address the issue sooner than later. Remember, there are many activities you can do to help improve your abdominal strength, hip strength and flexibility.
❤ Dr. Beth
Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ maximize their independence and fitness, so they can continue to enjoy a full and active life.