There are many reasons why back pain becomes more common as people get older, but there are often ways to prevent and treat it.
Have you noticed some aches and pains in your back that weren’t there a few years ago? If so, you’re not alone. It’s unfortunately quite common to experience back pain as you get older.
Millions of Americans experience regular back pain. According to a survey conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics in 2019, more than 45% of adults 65 and older had back pain within the last three months.
There are many reasons for it — from general wear and tear to injury and disease-related conditions.
But no matter the reason, if there are ways to alleviate such pain, it’s important to do so. After all, as Dr. Krishna Shah, an interventional pain specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, told the New York Times, “The lower back is the center point of our whole body.”
Reasons for back pain as we age
Here are a few common reasons why people develop back pain as they age.
Spinal disk degeneration
This condition, also known as osteoarthritis in the spine, is common in people over age 40. It occurs when the spine gradually loses its lubrication and cushioning, causing the bones to grind together.
This is another common condition in older adults; it occurs when a person’s bone mass and density diminishes. While the disease itself isn’t painful, it puts people at greater risk of fractures and breaks, which can not only cause pain but a domino effect of other health problems.
Many older adults do not exercise or move nearly as much as they did when they were younger. Because of this, they lose strength and flexibility, which puts them at higher risk of sprains and strains, especially in the back.
This occurs when the spine narrows, placing more pressure on the spine. This sometimes causes the nerves to become pinched or damaged, resulting in pain, numbness, and tingling.
How to prevent back pain
While some conditions will occur no matter the preventive measures taken, there are ways to reduce some of your risk of back pain. Here are a few:
Having a regular and consistent exercise regime of strength-training, cardio, and stretching are all great ways to keep your back strong, flexible, and mobile. It’s also a great way to slow age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia.
Fix your posture
If you’ve become more prone to hunching and slouching as you’ve gotten older, you can work on straightening up. Learn more about ways to improve your posture here.
Kicking smoking to the curb is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Because smoking reduces blood flow and narrows the arteries, studies have shown that people who smoke are at greater risk of degenerative disk disease, which can cause back pain.
Don’t lift heavy objects
While strength training is important to prevent chronic back pain, it’s also important to know your limits. It is not worth lifting something extremely heavy, because, as you get older, you’re at greater risk of muscle sprains and strains. When you do pick up objects off the ground, be sure your leg muscles are doing the work instead of your back.
Keep a healthy weight
Extra weight puts a significant amount of pressure on your back, spine, and joints. Maintaining a healthy weight will keep undue stress and strain off your muscles and bones.
An ounce of prevention may save your back – and improve your overall health, as well!
Treatment for back pain
If you are still experiencing back pain despite taking preventive measures, it’s time to talk with your doctor to discuss further treatment options. Below are a few ways to cope with and treat back pain.
Apply cold and heat
If you’ve experienced an injury within the last three days, it’s best to reach for an ice pack. Ice can help reduce inflammation and stop muscles from spasming. If you’re dealing with pain that’s lingered for more than a few days, heat is usually recommended to help relax the muscles. (Of note, you should not keep heat or cold on the pain area for more than 20 minutes at a time.)
Take NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications)
Over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and relieve back pain.
Recovery can be a slower road as you get older. While some people might have a hard time taking it easy for a few days, sometimes that’s exactly what the body needs. Slightly elevating your lower legs can help your back relax.
More advanced medical options
For more chronic and severe back pain, there are several procedures that you can talk about with your doctor, including nerve blocks, electrical nerve stimulation, lumbar decompression, chiropractic care, and surgery.
If you are experiencing any sort of back pain that lasts more than a few days, be sure to talk with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and discuss your best options for treatment.
Does Medicare cover chiropractic care?
If deemed medically necessary by your doctor, Original Medicare Part B will cover chiropractic care. But Medicare does not cover other follow-ups or treatments a chiropractor may order, including massage therapy and X-rays.
You may find broader chiropractic coverage under a Medicare Advantage plan. Some plans even offer routine chiropractic care. If you’re wondering how your Medicare plan measures up, or to shop for a new plan in your area, check out our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.
CDC: Back Pain Stats
New York Times: Simple Exercises May Lower Back Pain
National Library of Medicine: Effects of Tobacco Smoking on the Degeneration of the Intervertebral Disc
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