How Seniors Can Protect Themselves From Back Pain

Back pain is a common ailment from which seniors suffer. According to one study, in fact, between 12% and 49% of all seniors experience back pain. Other studies have shown an even higher prevalence of back pain among seniors. Regardless, the general consensus is that seniors are more likely to experience back pain than younger adults. So, what can seniors do to protect themselves from this otherwise common ailment?

How Aging Increases the Risk of Back Pain

As we age, tissues within and around the spine begin to degrade. The spinal column consists of 33 bones that are designed to flex so that we can bend with our backs. Between these bones are jelly-filled discs that provide a cushion. Known as intervertebral discs, they prevent the bones in our spines from making direct contact with each other. Over time, however, these intervertebral discs can degrade, resulting in pain when we bend our backs.

Degradation of intervertebral discs is just one of several reasons why seniors are more likely to experience back pain than younger adults. Many seniors suffer from osteoarthritis. Not to be confused with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis is an age-related joint disease that’s characterized by the loss of cartilage and tissue within the joints. Seniors who suffer from osteoarthritis may experience back pain because there’s less cartilage to support their spinal column.

Stand More Frequently

It may sound counterproductive, but standing more frequently can lower a senior’s risk of back pain. Sitting forces the spine to compress. When a senior sits, his or her spine will be roughly three times more compressed compared to standing.

Because sitting compresses the spine, it’s an underlying factor in back pain. Seniors who sit for extended periods are more likely to experience back pain than those who stand and move around. Therefore, seniors should try to reduce the amount of time they spend sitting while simultaneously increasing the amount of time they spend standing and moving around.

Practice Yoga

Yoga is an excellent activity for seniors who experience back pain. It doesn’t place pressure on the spine or other joints. Yoga actually helps to loosen joints so that they don’t become stiff and, therefore, cause pain. At the same time, yoga builds muscle tissue to further support and strengthen the spinal column.

Research shows that yoga is effective at relieving moderate-to-severe back pain. There are no weights or equipment used in yoga. Seniors can perform it using only their bodies. And by practicing yoga regularly, seniors will be less likely to experience back pain.

Apply a Hot Compress

Using a hot compress can often reduce back pain in seniors. A hot compress, such as a heating pad, will increase blood flow to the back so that it’s able to heal more quickly. Blood contains oxygen and nutrients that the human body uses to repair damaged tissue. If a senior is experiencing back pain, he or she probably has damaged tissue that needs repairing. Therefore, applying a hot compress can prove useful when treating back pain.

It’s important to note that a hot compress should only be used after at least 48 hours of back pain onset. During the first 48 hours, seniors should apply a cold compress to their back. A cold compress will reduce blood flow to the senior’s back, thereby minimizing swelling.

Invest in Good Shoes

Buying a new pair of shoes can have a positive impact on a senior’s spinal health. Over time, shoes will lose some of their supportive cushioning properties. When this occurs, each step a senior takes will stress his or her spinal column.

How often should seniors replace their shoes exactly? Most experts recommend replacing shoes at least once a year or every 400 miles — whichever comes first. In addition to buying a new pair of shoes, seniors can use insoles for extra support. Insoles are small pieces of supportive material that are placed inside shoes.

Change Sleeping Position

The position in which a senior sleeps can affect his or her risk of back pain. The worst position is sleeping on the stomach. When a senior sleeps on his or her stomach, their spine will bend at an unnatural and awkward angle. As a result, the senior may wake the following morning with back pain.

Rather than sleeping on their stomach, seniors should try sleeping on either their back or their side. When sleeping on their side, seniors can place a body pillow between their legs for extra spinal support. Regardless, seniors shouldn’t sleep on their stomach if they experience back pain.

Talk to a Physician

There’s no substitution for professional medical advice when dealing with back pain. When back pain occurs, a physician can provide advice on how to treat and manage it. The physician may recommend lifestyle changes, such as low-impact exercises and diet changes. Alternatively, the physician may recommend the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

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