At some point, most of us will suffer from back pain. For many it’s a mild but irritating ache that comes and goes; for others it’s a chronic, incapacitating pain that can make it difficult to stand, sit, and sleep. Back pain has several causes, including poor posture, ill-advised or awkward lifting, being overweight, or as the result of an accident. The most common cause of back pain, however, is simply age.
Whether we like it or not, there’s no escaping father time. Your back is an intricate system of bones, joints, muscles, and tendons. Your vertebrae – the bones in your spine – are lined up one on top of the other. Small joints between each vertebra enable your spine to move. Also crammed between the bones are disks. The centers of these disks have a softer consistency than bones. As a result, they buffer the impact on the bones while keeping them from bumping into each other.
The chances of pain increase as we get older. Over time, the disks between your vertebrae are worn down or shrink. When that happens, you experience stiffness and pain because your bones are now closer to rubbing against each other. Add in the fact that another element of aging is the narrowing of the space around your spinal cord – otherwise known as spinal stenosis – and you have additional pressure on the nerves in your back.
Treating Back Pain as You Age
You have three basic options for treating back pain: medicine, therapy, and surgery.
- Medicine – The least invasive of the three and the recommended first step for dealing with back pain. The types of medication available include aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen, oral or injectable steroids, or more complex narcotics such as codeine and morphine.
- Therapy – Also called physical medicine, therapy includes rest or limited physical activity, chiropractic therapy, active therapy (aerobics, stretching, weight lifting), passive therapy (massage, ice, heat, electrical stimulation), stress relief (yoga, meditation, Pilates), and braces that you can wrap around your back or stomach.
- Surgery – The final option when you’ve exhausted less invasive methods. Types of surgery include disk replacement and spinal fusion, which removes the movement between the bones in your spine.
Back Pain Prevention
Some estimates indicate that four out of five American adults will miss work during their careers because of chronic back pain. For most, the pain is neither permanent nor serious – more than 90 percent of back-related issues resolve themselves within six weeks.
To avoid back pain, following a simple plan may be all the difference. Steps include the following:
- Maintain good posture, standing and sitting
- Exercise to keep your core flexible and strong, and to reduce stress
- Follow a healthy diet and pay attention to your weight
The recommendations above won’t eliminate your chances of experience back pain, but they will minimize the likelihood as you get older. If you still experience back pain and discomfort despite a healthy lifestyle, take the time to speak with your physician.