Photo Credit: By (Originally Vsion's work)

Back pain is one of the areas that we think gets worse as we get older, but is this true? To find out researchers scoured all the research on the topic to see if a trend could be found. 

Tel Aviv chiropractor Dr Mark Yacoub sums up the latest research.

It is reasonable to assume that back pain, or lumbago as it sometimes called, will affect us more frequently and severely as we get older because of the accumulation of wear and tear, arthritis and general use and abuse.

As we get older we tend to exercise less, which weakens our supporting muscles. We pick up more injuries in falls as many people develop balance problems and we generally recover more slowly from trauma, especially in the back.

In spite of this, the studies over the last 10 years don’t show an increase in back ache beyond the age of 60.

In fact, in some studies, back pain actually seemed to be less frequent over the age of 60 compared to the years leading up to 60.

Why doesn’t back pain get worse as we get older? There are several theories for this.

First, it could be that the people in the research just happened to be born at a time when they were very fit and robust naturally. Computer games, television and dishwashers were not around 60 years ago so people growing up then were less sedentary and hence stronger physically. This may very well be the answer.

However, only a study that follows a large number of people for the full duration of their lives would tell and this has not been done yet.

Another theory is that we get more tolerant to pain as we get older, but this is not supported by the current body of evidence. In fact people who suffer chronic pain are much more likely to have a lowered threshold for pain.

However, the most likely explanation seems to be that we do less physically demanding activities in later life and so we don’t injure our backs as frequently or as severely.

There are not many rugby players, mountain bike riders or kick boxers over the age of 60! Also, we tend to stop work around this time.

So if poor work posture or activity, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), or even work stress is the factor that brings the back ache on then stopping work might help prevent future occurrences.

In addition, many people become more active after retiring by taking up rambling, jogging, golf, tennis and other sports.

 Increasing mobility and sport activities leads to greater muscle tone, which in turn yield greater joint stability. Greater joint stability results in less joint trauma and pain.

At my practice the average age of patients suffering with back pain is 43. This is similar to the average age of low back sufferers in the UK which stands at 45. 

That is not to say we don’t get people in their 60s and 70s coming in – we do, but the peak age to get back pain is in the younger, early middle-aged groups. We also treat a few teenagers with back pain, which brings the average down.

Most cases of back pain are preventable or are successfully managed with a combination of conservative care and exercise.

Please take an active role and address this issue as maintaining good posture and mobility are key factors in determining your quality of life.

Reference: Does back and neck pain become more common as you get older? A systematic literature review. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies 2012, 20:24




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About the author

Mark Yacoub

Dr Mark Yacoub is a graduate of the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic (AECC) in Bournemouth, UK. Since 2002, he has worked in Spain, Ireland and the UK. He and his family moved to Israel in Ap...

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