Once you reach “senior status” you are at an increased likelihood of developing back pain. This is just part of aging, but fortunately, it can be combated with specific exercises for back pain in elderly.
On this page we will cover the best workouts and individual exercises for an aging spine, along with some stretches and home treatment options that work well.
But, before we get into those, let’s quickly cover the aging spine in general, and discuss why it breaks down over time.
What causes back pain in elderly people?
More often than not, back pain is an inevitable part of aging. Just like other parts of our body, it starts to degenerate once we get over the 40 year hump.
The degenerating spine is usually the culprit of back pain. To understand why the spine causes pain with age, we need to look at the anatomy of it.
Anatomy of the spine
The spine can be broken into three parts: lumbar (lower), thoracic (upper), and cervical (neck), The spine itself consists of individual vertebrae, which are the bones in our back.
Between each vertebrae are discs, which are fluid filled structures that act as shock absorbers for our spine.
Their key role is to prevent our vertebrae from rubbing against one another, as this would cause significant pain, and further deterioration.
What happens to the spine with age?
Between the ages of 40-50, degeneration of the discs in your spine is more likely. Specifically, the discs that protect your vertebrae from one another start to wear down from years and years of work.
As these discs disintegrate, your vertebrae start rubbing on each other. This is where the back pain in elderly comes from. The degeneration of the spine opens the door more specific conditions as well, including spinal stenosis, spondylosis, arthritis, and more.
Can you prevent age related back pain?
You can take steps while you are still young to strengthen your core and your back, but most of the pain in elderly people is unpreventable. The nature of the spine is to degenerate, and there is little you can do to stop this.
The chances of you developing back pain in your old age are even higher if you’ve undergone some sort of spinal trauma, whether it be from a car accident, a fall, or sports-related injury. Even if your spine is completely healed following your trauma, old age will likely cause it to flare up again.
You are also at heightened risk of developing back pain if you worked a desk job your whole working life, as the force of sitting on your spine is unnatural. On the other end of the spectrum, those with manual labor jobs are also at an increased risk of back pain in old age, as their spine had to work overtime.
But, don’t stress too much. We are going to share some exercises that can help you manage your back pain in elderly years now.
The best exercises for back pain in elderly people
We want to start by saying you should always exercise within your limits. Make sure you are confident in your form before you start doing full workouts. If your form is not dialed in, you won’t be targeting the right muscles, and you open yourself up for further injury and even more pain.
If your current pain level is too high to get yourself to exercise, start by taking daily walks to get your blood moving. You don’t have to go crazy right off the bat, you can work your way into a workout regimen. We’ll start with some stretches you can implement to start increasing mobility, and decreasing pain. Then, we’ll cover the best exercises for back pain in elderly.
Start with some stretches
Before you get into doing actual exercises, you can start with stretching aggravated muscles. Once you have everything loosened up, you’ll be able to see better results from your exercises, and you’ll be safer.
Knee to chest hug
This is a great stretch for the lower back and your hips. You can do it on the floor, but for best results, lay on the edge of your bed or couch and let one of your legs hang off the side.
Grab your other knee and bring it to your chest, and once you feel a good stretch, hold it for 20-30 seconds. Make sure to keep your back and neck flat on the surface you’re laying on. Repeat for the other leg, and do 3 sets.
The child’s pose is a simple yoga movement that can really help with tight lower back muscles. Get on your hands and knees and start with your hands slightly in front of your face.
Sink back onto your heels, resting your glutes/hips on them. You should end with your face almost on the floor, and you’ll feel the stretch in your lower back but also in your lats and shoulders.
The cat/cow stretch is a two-step exercise, and a great way to warm up/stretch your entire back, shoulders, neck, and hips.
Get on your hands and knees, shoulder width apart. Inhale and push your hands and knees into the ground, slowly stretching and looking upwards. Think of arching your back with your stomach getting closer to the floor.
Hold your final position for a second, and then perform the opposite movement: imaging your back is being pulled towards the sky, similar to how a cat stretches.
You should repeat these two movement patterns for up to 30 seconds. Do this 3 times.
Lumbar Twist stretch
This particular stretch is a great way to stretch your spinal erectors. Start flat on your back and bend one knee, bringing your foot flat on the floor up to your other knee.
Take your opposite hand and place it on the outside of your bent knee. Gently pull your thigh toward your body, and you’ll feel a stretch in the one side of your spinal erector. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds, and then repeat for the other side. Do this 3 times per side.
Back and core strengthening exercises
Once you have everything loosened up with the aforementioned stretches, you can move onto some actual exercises for your age related back pain.
The first exercise we recommend is actually for your glutes. A lot of the time, back issues are caused by weak glutes. The bridge also works your core.
Get flat on your back, with your feet flat and your knees bent. Your feet should be close to your glutes. Push through your heels to lift your hips and glutes off the floor, and squeeze them together at the top. Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps to start.
The superman is one of the best exercises for back pain in elderly from a strengthening perspective.
It works your low back and shoulders, while also improving mobility. If you experience any back pain with this one other than general muscle soreness, stop doing it.
Lay flat on your stomach with your hands out in front of you, palms facing down, as if you were flying like superman. This will be your starting position.
Lift your hands and feet up as far as you can, and hold them there for a solid 2-3 seconds before returning to the starting position.
You should feel a slight burn in your spinal erectors, but any serious pain should be seen as a warning sign to stop. Do 3 sets of 8-12 to start.