Lower back pain in elderly years is an unfortunate reality many folks have to deal with. In fact, a large majority of people over the age of 60 will deal with some form of this ailment.
It can be caused by a number of things, and can create a range of symptoms other than just typical pain in your lumbar region. We’ll cover the most common causes, with detailed information about each one.
If you have been dealing with lower back pain, whether it be acute or chronic, don’t lose hope yet. Before you go and spend hundreds of thousands on back surgery, consider trying some of the home remedies and professional care options we recommend later on. But, let’s start with some general information on lumbar pain.
What is lower back pain?
Lower back pain is typically pain that occurs in the lumbar spine. This is why it is sometimes referred to as lumbar pain, rather than lower back pain. While your spine is a well-engineered construction of joints, bones, and ligaments, there is a lot that can go wrong as well.
And, as you age, this is an area that will almost inevitably break down. Not a lot can be done to prevent lower back pain in elderly people, unfortunately.
But, there are tons of things you can do to alleviate some of the pain and discomfort you feel. We’ll cover those more in depth later on. Now, we want to cover some of the most common causes of lower back pain in older aged folks.
What causes lower back pain in elderly?
There are so many different causes of lower back pain in elderly people, and the pain can present itself in a number of different ways.
In general though, lower back pain tends to be caused by the degeneration of your spine. It is just one of the many parts of aging you have to accept. No matter how healthy you were in your younger years, lower back pain does not discriminate – everyone’s spine breaks down over time.
The likelihood of lower back issues certainly increases based on certain factors, however. If you worked a laborious job throughout your working years, such as construction, you likely put your back under more stress than the average person.
And, if you suffer any injuries to your spine growing up, these can come back to haunt you later on despite initially healing completely. But, let’s cover the anatomy of the spine to help you understand why you can develop lower back pain for seemingly no reason.
The anatomy of the spine
The spine consists of lots of different vertebrae, each which has a name. Between these vertebrae are discs, which are filled with lubricant and protect our vertebrae from one another. Without these discs, our vertebrae would grind against themselves whenever we moved. Over time, this grinding of vertebrae would cause some nasty pain and dysfunctions.
Well, unfortunately, that is exactly what causes most of the lower back pain in the elderly population. These disks are like shocks, and they actually do degenerate over time, and eventually, your vertebrae start rubbing against each other. This results in the pain you feel in your lower back.
In some cases, this is a natural part of aging. In others, the degeneration of your spine is caused by illnesses or conditions that have a more specific root cause.
What illnesses can cause lower back pain?
There are a plenty of illnesses that can cause lower back pain, particularly in the elderly. These include:
- Cancer of the spinal cord
- Kidney infections
- Spinal infections
Most often however, lower back pain in elderly is caused by some form of degeneration of the spine, or it’s surrounding ligaments and muscles. These include osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, spinal compression fractures, lumbar herniated discs, and degenerative spondylolisthesis, among many others.
This condition is sometimes referred to as facet joint osteoarthritis, degenerative arthritis, and even osteoarthritis of the spine. We’ll just stick to osteoarthritis to keep things simple.
The pain caused by osteoarthritis is due to the degeneration of cartilage between the facet joints in your spine.
Your pay may begin intermittent, coming some days and disappearing others. But as the condition develops, and your cartilage continues to break down, pain will compound. Those with osteoarthritis typically end up developing sciatica as well.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis
- Pain that interrupts sleep
- Pain that is most pronounced first thing in the morning, and toward the end of the day
- Localized tenderness when the affected area is pressed
- Aching, steady, or intermittent pain caused by long activity
- Stiffness or loss of mobility in the back (inability to bend over)
Lumbar spinal stenosis
Another common cause of lower back pain in elderly is lumbar spinal stenosis. Here, your spinal canal actually narrows itself, squeezing your nerves which run along your lower back and into your legs.
It is one of the most prevalent degenerative conditions in people over the age of 60, and it can become very debilitating, to the point you are unable to walk. Here are some of the common symptoms of this type of lower back pain.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis
- Inability to walk without pain in your legs
- Pain is quickly relieved in your lower back after sitting down
- Wild fluctuations in pain, from none at all to excruciating, incapacitating pain
- Weakness and tingling stemming from the lower back into the glutes and legs (Sciatic nerve pain)
Spinal compression fracture
A spinal compression fracture is another common form of lower back pain in elderly people. As you age, your back becomes more prone to injury from surprisingly minimal force.
In fact, sometimes even just a hard cough or an unexpected sneeze can cause a spinal compression fracture in those over the age of 60. One thing is for sure – you’ll know something is wrong if you have this, as it will be a very sudden onset of pain immediately after it happens. Here are some of the symptoms:
- Sudden onset of lower back pain immediately after tweaking it
- Pain is manageable when seated or lying, but standing or walking immediately intensifies it
- Lying flat on your back makes the pain go away
- Height loss from the compression of your spine
- Immobility of the spine and/or core
This degenerative condition is pretty similar to lumbar spinal stenosis in terms of symptoms and the way the condition works.
Whereas in spinal stenosis your canal shrinks, in degenerative spondylolisthesis the actual facet joints in your spine get larger, which has the same effect essentially.
Sometimes, spondylolisthesis turns into spinal stenosis. Here are the symptoms, which as we mentioned, are very similar.
Symptoms of degenerative spondylolisthesis
- Gradual pain in the lumbar region that gets worse over time
- Pain in the leg which radiates from the lower back
- Sciatic pain, nerve tingles, and numbness
- Pain in the upright position, which is alleviated by sitting
- Tight, inflexible hamstring muscles and core muscles
Lumbar herniated disc
One of the most excruciatingly painful forms of lower back pain in old age is a lumbar herniated disc. Similar to a spinal compression fracture, you’ll likely know right away something is wrong when you have this condition, as its usually caused by improper movement in your spine.
Sometimes however, a herniated disc can appear seemingly out of nowhere, just due to degradation of your spine.
The science behind a herniated disc is as follows: The jelly-filled center of your disc (which acts as a shock absorber for your spine) can sometimes burst through the disc wall, which is where the hernia occurs.
Once this happens, the pain is two-fold: you’ll be in agony from the rupturing of the disc itself, but this jelly-like inner material is highly inflammatory, and will cause pain on whatever nerves outside the disk it expands to.
Unlike other lower back conditions in the elderly, this one may be able to heal itself over time.
Symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc
- Sudden onset of pain that resolves itself after a while
- Leg pain which typically exceeds the lower back pain
- Nerve pain described as sharp, shocking, piercing, or radiating
- Weird variable pain, as each disc is associated with other areas of the body and pain will be felt there as well
- Numbness, tingling throughout the body
- Foot drop, or the inability to lift the foot when standing on the ball of your heel
How to fix lower back pain in elderly
Now, if you suspect you have one of these more serious conditions, you should probably see a doctor. Or, at the very least, one of the professional care options we suggest shortly.
But, if you can’t be seen for a few weeks or you want to try and fix your back pain on your own at home, we have a few remedies you can try!
Home remedies for relieving back pain in elderly folks
One thing about old age is that you’ll have lots of time on your hands, and you can use this time to come up with a regimen that starts healing your back, and subsiding your pain. A lot of these have to do with simply getting your blood moving, which is where we wil start.
Get moving daily!
One of the best ways to treat lower back pain in your elderly years from the comfort of your own home is simply by moving.
Whether it’s taking your dog for a walk, stretching on the floor, or even joining a gym to use their pool or low-impact bikes. Just getting your body moving and your blood flowing will do a ton to alleviate your lower back pain.
As pain allows, you should try doing core strengthening exercises. Often times, lower back injuries and pain are a result of weak or immobile core muscles.
Cold and warm compresses
You can also alternate between ice and heat packs, starting with ice for a few days before switching to heat. The ice will decrease inflammation early on, whereas the heat will encourage healing and get blood moving in that area.
If you are in agony, you can take pain medication prescribed by a doctor or any NSAID’s. But, be careful here. These should be used sparingly, only on the worst of days. Otherwise, you may develop a dependence, which can be a nasty road to go down. Think of these as “in case of emergency, break glass” – they should not be your morning ritual.
Professional treatments for lower back pain in elderly people
Sometimes, these home treatments aren’t enough. Or, maybe you don’t feel confident in your ability heal yourself.
That is perfectly fine, and thankfully, there are all kinds of specialists out there that are trained to resolve issues in your lower back. These include chiropractors, physical therapists, and even acupuncturists or massage therapists.
Chiropractors are sometimes seen as illegitimate, but their entire profession revolves around the spine – they are the only group of medical professionals that can say this!
They may be able to help diagnose your lower back pain, and can adjust your spine to help alleviate pain. This is the type of therapy you have to continually go to, however, as your spine will revert to it’s old conditions if you stop going.
At physical therapy, you will undergo a combination of deep tissue work, stretching/mobilzation, and strengthening, particularly of the core muscles.
Physical therapy is great way to actively treat your back condition, and become stronger and healthier in the process.
Acupuncture is an old form of medicine that can easily be mistaken as a form of torture to those who haven’t seen it before.
It involves sticking needles into certain points in your back to stimulate healing and relief, and can be really beneficial for certain groups of people. If you are out of options, consider acupuncture.
Is lower back surgery a good option for the elderly?
In general, lower back surgery is costly, and doesn’t generate impressive results all the time. Most often, the recovery from lower back surgery is a long, painstaking process filled with setbacks and frustration.
With an average cost of well over 6 figures for surgery, your money is likely better spent on one of the aforementioned professional treatment plans, where you’ll be able to make progress quickly.
In old age, lower back surgery can open a lot of doors for infections, and the last thing you want to do is spend weeks in bed recovering anyway.