Hello, everyone! It’s Dr. Bob with Lowcountry Chiropractic. I hope all of you are doing well and staying safe! As we approach the end of fall and the beginning of winter, it’s almost time to give thanks for this year. Many of us don’t enjoy the prospect of growing older. We would rather keep turning the same age year after year. But growing older means growing wiser, too. Instead of succumbing to the stiffness and soreness associated with advanced age, I’m here to tell you there’s a reward for sticking to a healthy lifestyle and it’s not too late to start! When you take care of your body, your body takes care of you. And, while we cannot control some of the effects of aging, we can certainly do our part to slow down the process. My goal is for my patients to remain limber and spry into the later decades of their life, as this mobility adds to their quality of life. In today’s post, we’ll discuss what happens to the human spine over time, as well as a few ways you can help your back stay strong for many years to come. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, read on!
There are many reasons for chronic back pain. Pregnant women cite their baby bumps for not being able to sleep well, while others cite poor posture and spinal diseases. After a certain point however, many of us simply say, “I’m just getting old.” Age is considered the catch-all for a laundry list of ailments, but the truth is: There are plenty of sixty-year-olds who beat out thirty-year-olds in terms of mobility. How is that?
First, we must understand what happens to our backs as we age. Similar to a car with hundreds of thousands of miles, our bodies accumulate wear and tear over the course of our lives. Consider the nights you spent struggling to sleep on a poor mattress, the heavy book bag you carried all through school, the pronounced slouch you took when working at your desk for hours. These habits take their toll after a while.
The spine is composed of vertebrae--small bones which stack on top of one another--and discs--the jelly-centered in-between bits which absorb shock and keep our vertebrae from rubbing together as we move. Unfortunately, our discs are rubbed down throughout our lifetimes, resulting in pain from colliding vertebrae. Unlike tires on a car, these discs have no warranty. As the discs wear down, our spinal cord is compressed, putting pressure on the sixty-two nerves which branch off from our spine and causing pain.
During our first ten years of life, discal degeneration begins. Minor tears and fissures in our spinal tissue can contribute to discal herniation (when the jelly-like interior of a disk slips through a crack in the hard outer shell), which is a precursor to radiculopathy (a pinched nerve root). Radiculopathy is common in young adults.
Car accidents and their resulting whiplash, in addition to broken bones, can accelerate the formation of arthritis in the affected joints. Arthritis can then affect the junctions in our spine where our vertebrae meet, causing further irritation.
As we age, we struggle to absorb the necessary level of calcium and other vital nutrients, which results in weakened bones or osteoporosis. We become more prone to bone breaks and fractures. Osteoporosis can lead to bone remodeling and even rotatory deformities. A study in the Menopause Review found women experience a noted increase in back pain when undergoing perimenopause and menopause. Lower back pain is the most common health problem contributing to disability in older adults, with as many as 70% of those aged sixty-five and above reporting they suffer from LBP. All of these things contribute to the stark reality of many elderly, who live in near constant back pain, with limited mobility.
Returning to the car analogy: How do you care for your vehicle to ensure you’ll be able to drive as many miles as possible, as comfortably as possible? Well, you change the oil. You buy the best grade of gas. You put air in the tires and fix minor issues as soon as they appear. In this way, you can be fairly sure your car puts out the maximum amount of mileage. In the same way, when you take care of your body, you can reduce (or slow) some of the degenerative effects of aging.
One of the ways you can “take your body to the shop” is exercise. Research shows exercise is the reason certain older people experience less health problems as they age. In addition to girding the spine and staving off conditions like degenerative disc disease, exercise can help keep away a host of other ailments, including depression and anxiety. A study conducted to assess the effect of exercise on the elderly (who were already afflicted with lower back pain), yielded significant results. The conclusion was simple: “Strengthening exercise is a beneficial treatment for older people with LBP in reducing pain intensity, disability, and improved functional performances.”
While you need not sign up for a gym membership, you’ll want to dedicate equal focus to strength training as you do to cardio. Exercises which target the core and back muscles will help support your spine in its everyday activities. Another study showed an eight-week flexibility training program was able to improve the range of motion of elderly women. If you aren’t sure where to begin or you have not been active for many months, start by stretching. As your muscles acclimate to daily use, you’ll start to crave further movement. As well, stretching can help prevent injuries once you do start exercising vigorously.
Another key indicator of overall health is diet. Being overweight can contribute to back pain. According to a study conducted last year, those in the study with spinal pain had significantly poorer diets than those without. Those individuals with a healthy diet were 24% less likely to report spinal pain. Similarly, while fruit, whole grains, and dairy intake were associated with 20-26% lowered likelihood to experience chronic pain, added sugars in an individual’s diet were associated with a 49% increase in likelihood to experience chronic spinal pain. Without proper nutrients, structures within the body are unable to heal and restore themselves. Of course, a balanced diet will be recommended by any physician. However, if you aim to maintain a healthy spine, you’ll want to hone in on a few essential vitamins and minerals.
The first of these essentials is calcium. Calcium is one of the means of ensuring bone mass into our old age. A deficiency in calcium is one of the main contributors to brittle, weak bones. Calcium can be found in dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheeses. Dark, leafy greens and oily, fatty fish are also great sources. Additionally, almonds, oranges, tofu, and black strap molasses can help you reach your daily calcium intake goal. To absorb calcium, your body also needs vitamin D. Usually, these two supplements are paired together to ensure proper absorption. However, vitamin D can also be found in egg yolks, canned salmon with bones, and sunlight.
Calcium alone does not produce strong bones. To gain strong bones, you’ll also need magnesium. Magnesium is responsible for facilitating over 300 biochemical reactions within the body, as well as helping to form the matrix of our bones. Unfortunately, if this necessary magnesium cannot be found in our blood, our body will steal the mineral from our bones. If you are deficient in magnesium, you may experience cramps or muscle spasms often. The muscles which support and hold the spine are also susceptible to this tension. Seek magnesium in dark greens, dark chocolate, bananas, avocados, cashews, Brazil nuts, whole grains, and supplements.
Finally, there’s the benefits of seeking regular chiropractic care. Chiropractic care can treat chronic conditions and pain, but its uses are better served in preventing chronic conditions and pain. When left untreated, subluxations within the spine can worsen and disrupt our quality of life. When left for long periods--years and decades--these subluxations become limitations in movement and pain points.
Aging isn’t linear. It doesn’t happen all at once, either. Instead, numerous factors play into how someone ages, including: stress, diet, sleep, environment, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and more. Having access to chiropractic care, which was specifically created to care for the spine, surely impacts the aging process of those receiving treatment. Since the spine houses so many essential nerves, its health is a fundamental prerequisite for the health of the rest of the body. Regular chiropractic care is associated with lower levels of pain, especially pain related to the neck and back. Not only can chiropractic care help alleviate back pain in elderly patients, it can assist in maintaining the mobility of younger spines, as well.
These tips are for those who take their long-term health seriously and would like to be able to continue flipping cartwheels into their old age. (Or, learn how to flip cartwheels in their old age.) There’s no rule in any book which says older individuals must live with back pain and lessened mobility. We here at Lowcountry Chiropractic are here to help. Send us a quick email or a phone call and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. It’s my job to perform a thorough analysis of your situation and develop a plan for ensuring you garner as many “miles” as possible from your back. I hope this information was helpful to you! I look forward to seeing you and remember: I’m Dr. Bob and I have your back covered!
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