Between 80% and 90% of the general population will experience an episode of lower back pain (LBP) at least once during their lives. When it affects the young to middle-aged, we often use the term “non-specific LBP” to describe the condition. The geriatric population suffers from the “aging effects” of the spine—things like degenerative joint disease, degenerative disk disease, and spinal stenosis. Fractures caused by osteoporosis can also result in back pain.
The “good news” is that there are rare times when your doctor must consider a serious cause of LBP. That’s why he or she will ask about or check the following during your initial consultation: 1) Have you had bowel or bladder control problems? (This is to make sure a patient doesn’t have “cauda equina syndrome”—a very severely pinched nerve.) 2) Take a patient’s temperature and ask about any recent urinary or respiratory tract infections to rule out spinal infections. 3) To rule out cancer, a doctor may ask about a family or personal history of cancer, recent unexplained weight loss, LBP that won’t go away with time, or sleep interruptions that are out of the ordinary. 4) To rule out fractures, a doctor may also take x-rays if a patient is over age 70 regardless of trauma due to osteoporosis, over age 50 with minor trauma, and at any age with major trauma.
Once a doctor of chiropractic can rule out the “dangerous” causes of LBP, the “KEY” form of treatment is giving reassurance that LBP is manageable and advise LBP sufferers of ALL ages (especially the elderly) to KEEP MOVING! Of course, the speed at which we move depends on many things—first is safety, but perhaps more importantly is to NOT BECOME AFRAID to do things! As we age, we gradually fall out of shape and end up blaming our age for the inability to do simple normal activities. Regardless of age, we must GRADUALLY increase our activities to avoid the trap of sedentary habits resulting in deconditioning followed “fear avoidant behavior!”
Here are a few “surprising” reasons your back may be “killing you”: 1) You’re feeling down – That’s right, having “the blues” and more serious mood disorders, like depression, can make it more difficult to cope with pain. Also, depression often reduces the drive to exercise, may disturb sleep, and can affect dietary decisions—all of which are LBP contributors. 2) Your phone – Poor posture caused by holding a phone between your bent head and shoulder (get a headset!) or prolonged mobile phone use can increase your risk for spinal pain. 3) Your feet hurt, which makes you walk with an altered gait pattern, forcing compensatory movements up the “kinetic chain” leading to LBP. 4) Core muscle weakness, especially if you add to that a “pendulous abdomen” from being overweight—this is a recipe for disaster for LBP. 5) Tight short muscles such as hamstrings, hip rotator muscles, and/or tight hip joint capsules are common problems that contribute to LBP. Stretching exercises can REALLY help!
Cliff Atwell, B.S., D.C.