Does back pain get worse as you get older?

A common perception is that the overwhelming majority of chiropractic patients are of the retired generation, perhaps because society has the perception that our joints wear out as we get older.

Certainly, the logic that a worn out joint would cause more pain than a shiny new one seems incontrovertible.

But, on both counts, these views have been shown to be false. The peak age for visits to the chiropractor (at least at Sure Health) is just a shade under 46 years, and research again and again demonstrates no correlation with worn out joints and pain.

This might come as a surprise to many, but most of the changes seen in worn out joints are a result of your body’s attempt to stabilise and protect that joint. Your body is adapting to the strain that it is under. These adaptations can actually be responsible for a reduction in symptoms.

Furthermore, joints don’t live in isolation. The connective tissue and muscle surrounding a joint is often responsible for pain, and this can be the case at any age and with any condition of joint.

The non-relationship between joint degeneration and pain is particularly obvious in low back pain.

Some of the biggest studies in healthcare have been done on lower back pain, and the peak incidence of lower back pain is in the fifth decade of life, ie. between the ages of 40 and 50.

There is a sharp tail off in the occurrence of low back pain after the age of 50 that carries on throughout the rest life.

This has an important influence on the management of lower back pain.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a person’s beliefs play a significant role in their pain experience and response to treatment.

The misconception that joint wear and advancing years cause, or even correlate with, pain can impede treatment in a big way.

The belief that pain is inevitable with age can lead to people not seeking treatment for problems that can often easily be resolved.

And finally, research has shown that addressing these beliefs and re-educating people can greatly improve their perception of pain, response to treatment and attitude towards activity.

Just understanding that pain is not inevitable can lead to an improvement in symptoms. Talk about low hanging fruit.

This is a message that needs pushing through every letterbox. Addressing concerns about age-related pain and frailty can improve quality of life in so many respects. From feeling better to becoming more active, the gains are enormous.

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