The majority of people experience pain in the lower back at some point in their lives. And there are quite a few reasons for back pain like being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, or having poor eating habits. But one of the most common reasons for back pain is ageing.
In new-borns, the intervertebral discs are full of water, but with time the disks start to lose their water content which makes them less flexible, resulting in pain. This is the reason why ageing is one of the major factors that lead to the development of several spinal pathologies like lumbar spinal stenosis, spinal infection, tumours, and osteoporotic vertebral fractures. However, identification of the root cause of these issues can help an individual take preventive measures and avoid worsening of the situation. Following are some of the major causes of lower back pain in older adults:
1. Muscle Strain and Ligament Sprain
Sprains and strains are two of the most common reasons for lower back pain. Sudden twisting movements can cause it. Strains occur when a muscle is over-stretched. On the other hand, a sprain can occur when over-stretching leads to a ligament tear. Since the ligament connects bone to bone or bone to cartilage, it can take longer to heal. Some of the major causes that may lead to it are:
• Lifting heavy objects
• Rapid, jerky movements that can stress your back muscles
• Poor posture
Thus, it is advised that an elderly person should not perform vigorous physical activities. They should seek help from a physician or a caregiver for the elderly in case they experience severe back pain.
2. Degenerative Disc Disease
Despite its name, this is not a disease. It is just a natural occurrence that comes with aging. As mentioned earlier, the intervertebral discs in one’s spine have enough water content in the initial years but over time these discs lose hydration and wear down. Thus, the spine is unable to resist forces that may lead to tears and thus causes pain in the lower backbone. These rubbery discs between the vertebrae usually allow an individual to flex or bend and act as shock absorbers. This is the reason why older people find it difficult to perform such tasks.
3. Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows down. This puts pressure on the cord and spinal nerves which causes pain, numbness, or cramping. Ageing is one of the biggest risk factors responsible for developing spinal stenosis. This mostly causes lower back and neck pain in older adults. The two major types of spinal stenosis are:
• Cervical stenosis - a condition that occurs when the part of the spine in the neck narrows down.
• Lumbar stenosis - a condition that occurs when the part of the spine in the lower back narrows down. Lumbar stenosis is the most common form of spinal stenosis.
Leading an active lifestyle, eating healthy, and maintaining a good posture can help in preventing spinal stenosis.
Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve that branches from the lower back through the hips and down each leg. Sciatica typically results in pain in the sides of the lower back. However, one may only experience lower back pain on one side of the body. One might also experience significant leg weakness or bowel or bladder changes. Other than this, some people may also experience numbness, tingling sensation, or weakness in the affected leg or foot. Consulting a physician or doctor can help ease these symptoms.
Scoliosis is a condition the refers to the sideways curvature of the spine. This usually occurs during the growth spurt in adolescents. However, it can also be caused by conditions like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. While the majority of cases are mild, some spine deformities may get more severe and complex over time. Severe scoliosis can be disabling and can even reduce the amount of space within the chest. This can make it quite difficult for people suffering from respiratory diseases. Thus, appointing home help for the elderly becomes extremely important in this situation.
6. Facet Joint Pain
Facet joint pain is usually localized back pain along with a pain that covers the thigh area as well. The pain might be mild but can be aggravated by different types of motions like walking or climbing the stairs. In some cases, there might be no symptoms. However, certain movements like trunk extension and ipsilateral lateral flexion can trigger symptoms. Also, lumbar degenerative spondylolisthesis – a condition linked with facet hypertrophy typically affects older women and is one of the most common reasons for backbone pain. Although facet joint pain cannot be reversed, some lifestyle changes careful management can help ease symptoms and allow an individual to lead a better and comfortable life.
Osteoarthritis can be referred to as the “wear-and-tear” type of arthritis. It is one of the causes of neck and severe lower back pain. The joints connecting the vertebrae are lined with cartilage which is a flexible and elastic tissue. This cartilage fades away as you age. Moreover, the discs lose their water content and become narrower. This adds more pressure to the joints which can lead to inflammation and cause pain. However, if one experiences pain majorly in the neck, it could be due to cervical spondylosis. This condition develops because of abnormal wear on the bones and cartilage in the neck.
8. Vertebral Compression Fracture
Vertebral compression fractures (VCF) occur when the vertebral body in the spine collapses. This can lead to severe pain, deformity, and even loss of height. This usually occurs in the lower part thoracic spine and is quite common in older adults. However, the risk of developing it is even higher in postmenopausal and older women. This is one of the major causes of severe back pain in an elderly woman. One should ensure that they do not perform any strenuous activities that may put a strain on the spine.
9. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that results in inflammation and pain in the joints. This condition causes damage throughout the body. The joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis usually affects both sides of the body. Thus, a joint affected in one of the arms or legs indicates that the same joint on the other side will be affected as well. The need for home help for the elderly is extremely important in this condition. Only with the help of an experienced physician, the best ways to slow the progression of the condition can be identified.
10. Herniated disc
The bones of the vertebrae forming the spine are cushioned by discs. These small pillow-like discs have a tough outer layer surrounding the nucleus. Located between each vertebra in the spinal column, these discs act as shock absorbers. Thus, a tear or rupture in the spine can result in the bulging of the disc, known as a herniated disc. This is usually one of the early stages of degeneration. This displacement causes the disc to strain the spinal nerves that result in severe back pain in older people.
Lower back pain in the elderly is extremely common. It is the body’s natural mechanism to tell you that you need to change your lifestyle. Apart from eating healthy, maintaining a good posture, and leading an active lifestyle, one should also consider seeking professional advice. Other than this, one can also consult physiotherapists who can guide you on proper lifting and walking techniques that will help you strengthen your lower back and abdominal muscles and thus making your spine more resilient.
Emoha Elder Care understands that older people need extra care and love. With its in-home healthcare service, EMOHA aims to offer a comfortable and secure environment to the elderly. With facilities like digital health record management, medication reminders, and home visits by doctors and nurses, Emoha aims to provide holistic home care and elder care services, always keeping #EldersFirst in everything we do.