Low Back Pain in Seniors Doesn’t Always Mean Illness

Last Updated: 12.04.24


Have you ever vacuumed the carpet and felt an excruciating pain in your lower back? Here we will explain why this shouldn’t scare you and why you don’t have to blame it on your age. Low back pain (LBP) is a common condition that affects young people as well as the elderly and some of the factors causing it have nothing to do with illness. This is good news, meaning there is something you can do in order to solve the problem.


Low back pain: myths and reality

Low back pain can be a debilitating condition, but there are numerous causes that influence the pain. When hearing about LBP in seniors, people quickly conclude that, because of their age, those people experience a herniated disk, a spine infection or other diseases that demand special treatment and medication.

Indeed, LBP is the most common condition in older people and it can result in disability. Even though, as studies suggest, low back pain has a progressive rise from the teenage years to 60, the prevalence of this condition is higher in people over 65.

The truth is that seniors are prone to age-related conditions that may cause LBP like ankylosing spondylitis, lumbar spinal stenosis, spinal compression fracture, spinal tumors and changes in central pain processing, but that is not always the case. Other factors can influence the pain and we have to take them into consideration before entering the panic mode.

In any case, you have to always remember a very important thing: when experiencing low back pain as a senior, you have to go see a physician. There are multiple causes of low back pain and the sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can start the treatment. 



What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of lower back pain can be acute or chronic.

The acute symptoms are usually severe pain in the lower back that doesn’t go away when changing your activity or spine position, like lying down, and tenderness in the area when touching it. This is the situation when you have to call your physician and act with medical treatment and rest, since that, combined, may relieve the pain in four to five days.

But there is the other kind of pain, the chronic one, that you may overlook and put yourself in the position of living with it just because you think that there is nothing you can do about it due to your age.

If you are experiencing stiffness in the lower back and the feeling that you are unable to make some simple moves, pain that makes you wake up at night, pain that appears in the morning increasing in intensity until the end of the day or intermittent pain that aggravates during extended activities, lasting for more than two weeks, that means you have chronic LBP.

That is not the end of the world. If you address the causes, you can make your life easier and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.


Modifiable risk factors of developing lower back pain among seniors

  1. Psychological distress

Studies have long shown that anxiety and depression are factors that influence low back pain. A study made on people over 70, revealed that depression had a great influence on debilitating LBP on these individuals.

As you may know, depression and anxiety are often encountered in seniors. As people grow older, they start losing their sense of purpose and progressively reduce their social activity after leaving their jobs. This may cause people to feel anxious and depressed. Such mental health factors influence people to focus on their pain and can increase the perception of its intensity.

  1. Vigorous physical activity

Counter-intuitive, even though you might think that vigorous activity is good for seniors, studies have shown that having this type of activity for more than 20 minutes a day, from 4 to 7 times a week, can increase the risk of persistent back pain in women over 65 years old. Of course, it depends on the fitness level you have, but, similar to everything we do, moderation is the key.

Scientists and physicians recommend moderate physical activity, like walking for 30 minutes a day, five to seven times a week, or engaging in strength exercises, two to three times a week, for reducing the risk of lower back pain. A similar study found that strength exercises can lower LBP in men over the age of 65.

Before engaging in this type of activity, however, you must always consult your physician. They will evaluate your fitness level and will recommend the type of activity you need to get stronger.

After you have done that, a good idea is to find a kinesiotherapy professional that can help you with the progression of your exercises. They have a great amount of knowledge on the movements that are good for you and those that are not, and can also help you when it comes to consistency.

  1. The habit of smoking

We all know that smoking is bad for us. Many seniors have been having this habit since they were in their 20s. The ideal thing to do is to quit, but quitting might be a hard thing to do. That being the case, a good idea is to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke as much as possible, and here is why.

The effects of smoking on pain perception are still unclear, but regardless of age, smoking is known to alter the way we perceive pain. 

However, the degenerative spinal structure has been discovered in people as well as animals exposed to cigarette smoke. These degenerative changes in intervertebral discs can cause pain due to the pressure applied to the spinal nerves, causing low back pain.

  1. Your self-perceived health

Psychology has always said that the way we look at things can change or alter our well being. Self-perceived health in the elderly can often be a factor that worsens the symptoms of low back pain. This has a lot to do with the fact that there is a popular belief that older people have more physical issues than younger adults.

These thoughts, if left uncontrolled, may cause anxiety and depression and, as we’ve said before, can intensify low back pain. That means that seniors have to keep a positive attitude toward the fact that they are getting older and try to shift how they perceive their health to a positive and thriving one.

  1. The social factors

Human beings are social creatures. As we grow older, our social connections get weaker and that may cause depression, leading to increased symptoms of LBP.

Social status can also have a great impact on back pain. Lower food quality may lead to a lack of essential nutrients that affect the structure of our intervertebral disks, bones, and muscles, factors that are essential to spinal health.

The access to health care may be reduced due to the lack of financial resources, so seniors with this problem won’t be able to see a physician to get proper diagnosis and treatment. That is why their low back pain can get worse. The same goes for a lack of education on these issues.



Final considerations

Being a senior doesn’t mean that you have to be ill to experience lower back pain. It is a condition that affects people of all ages and, even though people over 65 can experience more intense symptoms, that doesn’t always mean that you have an age-related illness.

The most important thing you have to remember is that, because of your age, you always have to see a physician when you experience this kind of symptoms so that you can get a correct diagnosis and eliminate the possible age-related conditions that can cause your LBP. After that, you can assess the situation the right way and take all the measures needed to relieve the pain.

Last but not least, you have to review your attitude. You always have to remain positive and change any dark thoughts you have when it comes to low back pain, health, and life, in general. Just think about the fact that you have managed to live all these years and now you have the freedom to enjoy the little things in life. Take advantage of that as much as possible!



Leave a comment


Antigonum Cajan

December 7, 2019 at 11:33 am

Excellent article. It leaves no doubts about
Pain and age. One has nothing to do with the

Ana Heather

December 9, 2019 at 9:20 am

Hi there. Thank you. I’m really glad you liked our article and found it helpful.

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