Over 40 with Back Pain: Questions and Answers

Often we think of back pain as inevitable as grey hair or a growing waistline. While it’s true that most Americans will experience back pain sometime in their lives, what you do about that pain will determine how it will continue to affect you. Yes, aging does play a part in when and why we get back pain, but as Magnolia therapist Lauren Manna explains, knowing the causes and possible treatment options will allow you to formulate a plan for dealing with the pain and not letting it control you rather than just suffering from it.

Magnolia clinic director, Lauren Manna

Magnolia clinic director, Lauren Manna

Q: When I suffer low back pain does that mean there’s a problem with my spine? Amber G.

Yes, most of the time it’s spine related. But you have to keep in mind that the spine is made up of small bones, called vertebrae, as well as muscles, ligaments, nerves, and disks, which act like shock absorbers between the vertebrae (bones in the spinal column). So the answer is that there might be a problem with the spine—in some occasions it could be pain felt in the back but coming from another area, but it really requires an evaluation in order to find out what’s causing the pain.

Q: I never worried about my back until my 40s, but nowadays it’s something I’m always aware of. Why is that? David W. 

It has to do with the normal aging process. As we get older, there’s normal wear and tear of our bodies. For example, the disks that I referred to earlier that act like shock absorbers between the vertebrae, those can start to break down losing size and fluid. Many people at this point in their lives aren’t as active and have more sedentary lifestyles, so that can contribute back pain because when we’re sitting, those disks are absorbing most of the weight of your body without much support coming from the hips, knees and lower joints. Plus, there’s the genetic component. If your parents had back pain, chances are you will as well and usually that becomes more apparent as we age.

Q: What causes low back pain? Rachel H. 

Poor posture: If you’re slumping when you sit, or the opposite in which you’re arching your back, that can cause more stress on the spinal area such as in the joints or in the ligaments.

 Bad lifting mechanics: You should be using your legs, keeping a straight spine and bending your knees.

 Degenerative Problems: Those are age-related challenges. As we get older, back pain can come with it.

Trauma related: Car accidents and falls are some the most common causes for trauma-related back injuries that we see.

Q: I was diagnosed with a herniated disk. Does this require surgery? Rebecca S.

Not always. It can often be treated non-invasively through physical therapy. Surgery is usually the last resort. Many people have herniated disks and don’t even know it, or feel little pain. It’s definitely treatable through physical therapy. We can help restore your mobility, flexibility and significantly decrease your pain.

Q: Are there exercises that I should do to help with my back pain? Latoya M.

Short answer is that there are no general exercises for everyone with back pain. What might help one person’s pain could make another person’s pain worse. It depends on what’s causing it. If you have persistent low back pain, it’s worth taking the time to get a good exercise prescription.

Q: I feel throbbing pain in my back sometimes for hours. A friend suggested I should get a cortisone shot or pain meds. Is this my best option? Anthony P.

Not necessarily. It goes back to trying to taking a noninvasive or conservative treatment approach. Cortisone shots don’t always work, can be bad for the bones, and, ultimately, are really putting a band aid on the underlying problem. However, sometimes a cortisone shot can be used in conjunction with physical therapy. 

Q: How can physical therapy help back pain? Cynthia G.

Well, we can help in a lot of different ways, but here are a few general descriptions. An evaluation by a physical therapist (PT) can assist in determining the cause of your back pain. Once a cause has been determined, your PT can implement an individualized treatment. Treatments may include manual therapy to help develop normal movement patterns, exercise to strengthen, retrain or stretch muscles and modalities to reduce pain/ spasm.

I think it’s extremely important to not wait too long. The earlier you get in for an evaluation, the sooner we can get you started on treatment, saving you time, money and aggravation. Back pain doesn’t have to be part of your life, but lessening it and not allowing it to limit your life does take commitment.

 

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