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Common Causes of Back Pain in Seniors

Chronic back pain is a common problem reported by about 50 percent of adults living in community care facilities, according to one study. Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is a disabling and challenging pain condition affecting older adults, who sometimes have to seek out professionals or the top spine specialist to find answers for their problems.

There are three primary reasons back pain tends to get worse with aging:

  1. Decreased muscle strength and mass associated with aging (sarcopenia).This could be due to a decrease in number of muscle fibers, the size of the individual fibers or both.
  1. Fast twitch fiber atrophy is also associated with aging. This results in slower muscle contraction but this can be reversed with training.
    1. Decreased muscle attenuation is associated with aging muscle.

This is a list of the more serious symptoms of CLBD:

  • Pain that interrupts your sleep.
  • Pain that occurs most in the morning and again at the end of the day
  • Localized tenderness when the affected area of the spine is pressed
  • Steady, aching or intermittent pain in the lower back that is aggravated by any long term activity
  • Loss of flexibility or stiffness in the back, e.g., being unable to bend comfortably at the waist.

Here are common back diseases for the elderly and their symptoms.

Facet Joint Osteoarthritis

This is also called degenerative arthritis or osteoarthritis of the spine. This is a condition that develops over time and affects older people more. The pain is caused by the breakdown of the cartilage between the joints of the spine. The symptoms may first only show up occasionally but can later develop into a steady pain in the lower back, and can be a cause for sciatica as well as lower back pain.

Treatments: There are a number of conservative and radical treatments for this ailment.

  • The patient can undergo stretching exercises for the hips, joints and the back. This can work to keep the pain from getting worse.
  • The services of a chiropractor could be utilized to help relieve pain.
  • Water therapy can also be used. It’s considered helpful since the joints aren’t under as much pressure in the water. You’re also not in as much pain when you’re moving.
  • Some drugs might be useful such as Acetaminophen, which is effective and is a relatively safe non-prescription drug. Some patients find NSAIDS to be helpful.

If those more conservative treatments don’t help, the patient could opt for surgery and certainly the advice of a certified spinal specialist in NJ. But this should only be done as the last resort as this is a very difficult and tricky kind of surgery that might affect multiple areas of the spinal column.

Lumbar spinal stenosis or degenerative spondylolisthesis

Both of these diseases, spinal stenosis and degenerative spondylolisthesis, can place pressure on spinal nerve centers. Standing upright or normal walking can increase pressure on the nerves and this results in leg pain.

Here are the symptoms of these diseases:

  • Patient is unable to walk far without developing leg pain
  • Pain is only relieved by sitting down
  • Symptoms fluctuate between sever and mild to none
  • Symptoms become worse over time.
  • Tingling, weakness and numbness radiates from the lower back into the buttocks and legs. (possible sciatica)

Here are the possible treatments of this disease:

  • Modify the patient’s activity. This is actually a matter of teaching the patient to walk differently. Pain is alleviated the more forward your motion. So if the patient learns to lean forward on a cane, walker or shopping cart this should lessen their pain.
  • Specific kinds of exercise: While walking might not be a solution there are other kinds of exercises that can increase strength and flexibility without making their conditions worse. For example, the patient could work out by using a stationary bike. If the patient doesn’t exercise their condition could get worse because of weakness.
  • Non-Steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Because inflammation is a common symptom of spinal stenosis, NSAIDs, or anti inflammatory drugs, might be an effective treatment for pain.
  • Epidural Injections: These injections usually take 15 to 30 minutes to complete and can be given on an outpatient basis. The physician guides a needle into the space into the epidural space and a steroid solution is slowly injected. The injection is an anti inflammatory agent and often includes a fast acting local anesthetic for temporary pain relief. Obviously, this is a bit more intense than taking an Advil. There are also more complicated surgical options for serious cases.

Compression Fracture

The possibility of a compression fracture should be considered whenever there is the sudden onset of back pain in any adult over the age of 50.  This condition can also be sparked by a long history of osteoporosis, where in such cases even the slightest amount of force, like a sneeze, put on the spine can cause a compression fractures.

Here are the symptoms of a compression fracture:

  • Sudden back pain that comes out of nowhere
  • The patient finds that standing or walking makes the pain worse.
  • Laying down makes the pain much less intense.
  • Loss of height.
  • Limited spinal flexibility
  • Deformity and disability.

Here are some treatments for a compression fracture:

  • Nonsurgical treatments: These treatments can include rest or pain medications. The patient can also use ice or heat for local pain. this would mean a slow return to mobility.
  • Surgical options: There are two major surgical options: Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty. Vertebroplasty involves a procedure where low viscosity cement is injected directly into the collapsed vertebral body under high pressure, with the goal of stabilizing the fracture and relieving the associated back pain. Kyphoplasty is very similar to a vertebroplasty but is used primarily to restore the body height of the patient.

As always, consult your physician for both diagnosis and treatment of some of these very serious ailments.