Like other critical parts of the musculoskeletal system, the spine experiences some wear and tear over the decades. Does this mean back pain is inevitable as you get older? Not necessarily.
What Happens to Your Spine as You Age?
The spine itself is composed of a series of stacked bones called vertebrae. Small joints between each vertebra allow for the spine’s range of movement and little rubbery discs with jelly-like centers inside make sure bones don’t rub against one another (they also serve as the spine’s shock absorbers).
Over time, these disks can dry out, shrink, and wear away, causing the spine to compress. This is known as degenerative disc disease. Sometimes the space surrounding the spinal cord will start to narrow too; this is known as spinal stenosis. Arthritis and osteoporosis may also affect the spine as you age leading to joint degradation and even spinal fractures.
Any of these age-related conditions can contribute to back pain, especially when bones start rubbing against one another and nerves get pinched. The body may even go as far as to grow bone spurs in an effort to stabilize a degenerating spine.
Preventing and Managing Back Pain
So, is there anything older adults can do to prevent it or at least manage the pain and discomfort that comes with those types of conditions? Definitely.
Experts recommend taking actions to relieve some of the burden your spine bears during daily activity. This includes:
- Exercising to strengthen your back and core to more properly support the spine
Practicing good posture when sitting, using the computer, texting, etc.
Wearing a back brace for added posture support and lumbar compression
Eating a healthy diet rich with anti-inflammatory foods that help you maintain a healthy weight and combat systemic inflammation in they body – think fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean proteins
Reducing stress on the back. This may mean utilizing lumbar cushions when driving, updating your mattress to better support your spine when sleeping, and avoiding activities which exacerbate your back pain
Of course, it is also important to remember that acute back pain can also stem from something as simple as a muscle strain. Lifting something heavy, straining your arms and neck reaching for something in an awkward position, even sitting for a long period of time in an uncomfortable chair – any of these things can cause back pain and inflammation.
Are painful arthritis flare-ups keeping you from doing the things you enjoy during the winter? Unfortunately, cold, damp weather and inactivity can both contribute to joint stiffness and discomfort. If this sounds all too familiar to you, don’t miss these quick tips for preventing arthritis pain in cold weather:
While it might seem more pertinent to hunker down under a warm blanket at home during cold days, it is widely known that physical activity plays a key role in keeping joints loose and mobilized. Find a way to exercise each day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes at a time. Try going for a walk, practicing yoga, swimming, biking, or even simply exercising at home with a stability ball and resistance bands.
Heavy winter clothes may feel great at first, but they can quickly increase your body temperature and actually leave you sweating underneath them. When that moisture on your body mixes with cool air, you have a recipe for freezing and making your joint pain worse. Opt instead to wear multiple light, breathable layers of clothing when heading out on cold days and always cover vulnerable joints with gloves and other accessories to keep them warm.
Update Your Arthritis Toolbox
Invest in basic tools that simplify daily tasks that can become more difficult during arthritis flare-ups. For example, a soft, wide handle grip that you slide over utensils like a fork or toothbrush can make it easier to eat and brush your teeth when your hands are sore and stiff. Tools like jar openers, reacher grabbers, button hooks, and dressing sticks can help too.
Get a Massage
Massage therapy has long been touted as an effective method for managing arthritis symptoms and for good reason. Massage can loosen tight muscles that are constricting joint motion and it can boost blood circulation and trigger the brain to release feel-good hormones. You can turn the heat up on a professional massage too with warm oils, hot towels, and even hot stones.
Eat Warm Foods
Oftentimes the foods that are promoted to help relieve inflammation are also those that generate thermogenic (temperature increasing) properties in the body. Ginger, cayenne, and turmeric, for example, have been shown to help relax and expand blood vessels for improved blood flow that benefits arthritic joints. Try them in a warming winter tea or soup.
When you think about your sleep, you typically think about a period of restoration and rejuvenation. Your sleep is supposed to be the time your mind and body have an opportunity to rest and repair for the next day.
What most people don’t know is that you could be sleeping incorrectly and making your pain worse instead of better.
How you could be sleeping incorrectly
You may not realize there’s a specific technique to the way you sleep. Besides, you’ve been sleeping all of your life. How could you possibly be doing it wrong?
One of the most important factors to your sleep, especially when you’re dealing with aches and pains, is your sleeping posture. Most sleepers sleep on their sides, and this can cause a lot of complications. For one thing, half of your body is crushed under the weight of the other half of your body. This can specifically target your pain points, so you’ll wake up with soreness in your shoulders, hips, and knees.
It’s not only sleeping on your side that can amplify your pain. Stomach sleepers are in an even worse position, putting undue stress on their lower backs all throughout the night, especially with thicker pillows that raise your neck up even higher.
You probably knew your sitting posture was important for your neck and back pain, but keeping proper posture while unconscious is a little more challenging to account for. Here’s how you can work on it.
What you can do to correct your sleep
If you’re a stomach sleeper, you should probably work on trying to get comfortable in other positions. It takes some time to adjust to sleeping in a new position, but it is possible to make a change. If possible, try to adjust to becoming a back sleeper. This is the best position for maintaining spinal alignment and decreasing your chances of waking up in pain.
If you’re absolutely committed to stomach or side sleeping, there are ways you can fix your technique. As a stomach sleeper, sleep with less, or no, pillows to eliminate the arching up that causes lower back pain. As a side sleeper, try to keep your body elongated rather than curled into the fetal position. This can help reduce morning pains (and snoring, too).
Author’s bio: Laurie Larson is a writer based in NC who writes on health topics.