13 Ways to Fix Your Age-Related Back Pain

Your spine may begin to feel aches and pains as you age. Here's why back pain can develop as you age, and what you can do about it.

Your spine, which is made up of 24 bones that run from your skull down to your tailbone and encasing your spinal cord, is actually a single column. These tiny joints, called facets, link the spine's bones or vertebrae. As a cushion, the discs are filled with jelly-like substances. The spine is stabilized by rope-like ligaments.

The three most common reasons for developing back pain after age 50 are:

6 things you can do to ease back pain

  1. Do more physical activity. E. Kano Mayer MD, a spinal specialist says, "Motion's lotion" for your spine. Your mood will improve if you become more active. Stay active, and you'll bounce back sooner from episodes of back pain.
  2. You can do physical therapy. Doctors may recommend a program of back-healthy exercises to increase strength and balance, as well as improve flexibility and mobility. You can make your spine stronger by strengthening your back, abdominal muscles and core.
  3. You should take medications. Stop inflammatory pain with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory medication (NSAIDs), which include ibuprofen and naproxen. Dr. Mayer states that pulsed dosing is a more sensible option than regular dosing. This involves taking the medicine for up to five days straight, regardless of whether or not pain relief has occurred. (Opioid pain relievers are not recommended for chronic back pain.)
  4. Use cold. Reach for an ice pack first when back pain strikes. Cooling down with ice for 20 minutes, then taking it off after that (20 minutes) will help to calm muscle spasms or painful inflammation. A frozen bag of peas can also be helpful.
  5. Heat. You can use heat after two to three days. According to Dr. Mayer, this can help relax the back and increase blood flow. To avoid burning yourself, don't use heat too often (for example, by falling asleep on a heating pad). After the heat has been removed, stretch warmed muscles to avoid muscle spasm.
  6. Relax. Our recovery from injury is slowed down by aging. However, gentle stretching can be better than bed rest if the back becomes inflamed. "Any bed rest beyond 48 hours can increase the duration and intensity of back pain, and slow the pace of your recovery," he notes.

2 complimentary therapies

If age-related back pain does not improve with conventional treatment, complementary medicine techniques may be added to the mix, including:

Acupuncture. Acupuncturists use fine needles to insert into the skin at certain points on the body and manipulate them. The body's natural healing process can be stimulated, which may help to relieve chronic pain.

Osteopathic manipulation. Osteopathic physicians (DOs), or chiropractors, manipulate the spine to move, adjust, massage, and stimulate its surrounding tissues.

More advanced options from back pain specialists

If pain becomes chronic and persistent, don't wait too long to see a back pain specialist. "Back pain does not have to destroy your quality of life," notes pain management specialist Ellen Rosenquist, MD.

Combining many procedures, including those listed above, in one comprehensive pain management program can help reduce pain and increase functionality.

Drs. Mayer and Rosenquist agree that less invasive therapies can help make rehabilitation more manageable.

Injections and nerve blocks. Steroids - with or without anesthetics - can be injected to reduce back pain and inflammation at the source, whether it is a spinal nerve root or a facet joint, says Dr. Rosenquist. Radiofrequency ablation. To block pain signals from high-frequency current, a needle that can transmit radio waves can easily be placed. This may relieve chronic back pain for nine months or longer in carefully selected people. The spinal cord stimulators. Some people can perceive pain differently by stimulating a small portion of their spinal cord. To send gentle electrical impulses to your spinal cord, a small array of electrodes can be placed. This is similar to several pacemakers. They can be used to mask pain signals or divert them so they don't reach your brain. Low-invasive lumbar compression. This procedure is performed outpatient and treats the lumbar spine stenosis due to ligamentous tissue growth. This procedure requires only a small incision and does not require general anesthesia. Kyphoplasty (minimally invasive vertebroplasty): When a spine fracture is severe, this procedure may be performed. Dr. Mayer says, "We inject cement into broken vertebral bodies to alleviate pain and quickly return patients to their full functionality." When such measures fail, a limited number of people may benefit from surgery for chronic age-related back pain.