Physiotherapy expert Becky Lees reveals that certain types of discomfort are more likely to crop up at a particular stage of life. She also said, “I have seen and treated every type of back pain there is and I have noticed that certain types tend to be associated with age.”
Here are the common ones, what causes it and how you can tackle it.
FOR ALL AGES THE BEST ADVICE IS TO EAT WELL, STAY ACTIVE AND KEEP FIT. BACK PAIN WILL USUALLY GET BETTER OF ITS OWN ACCORD BUT DO SEE A PHYSIOTHERAPIST OR GP IF THE SYMPTOMS PERSIST. -BECKY LEES, PHYSIOTHERAPIST
IN YOUR 20s
At this age back pain is often caused by trauma or a sports injury.
Sports such as gymnastics, diving, football, hockey or tennis which can cause you to fall, repeatedly strain or suddenly twist your back can cause an acute disc herniation, where the disc bulges and irritates the spinal nerves, potentially causing pins and needles, numbness and pain.
There are 26 bone vertebrae in the spine that are separated and kept in place by discs full of a jelly-like substance made of water and collagen fibres.
If one of these discs slips out of place, it presses on a nerve and causes back pain. Most minor herniations heal within weeks and treatment usually involves anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, hot or cold packs, massage and physical therapy. Sometimes steroid injections are used to reduce pain and swelling.
In severe cases it can be treated surgically. To avoid this type of back pain, warm up properly before sports and don’t ignore an injury – see a physiotherapist. Protect your back by ensuring you maintain good posture and learn how to do exercises to strengthen your core (tummy and pelvic floor) muscles.
IN YOUR 30s
This is a time of life when pregnancy and childbirth can cause a lot of back pain. Weight gain, weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, stretching of the abdominal muscles, lifting and carrying babies and toddlers all put stress on our backs.
Staying active and maintaining fitness levels by walking and swimming during pregnancy will keep a check on weight gain. Women who are breastfeeding may also suffer thoracic (also known as middle) back pain caused by bending forwards to feed a baby, although this type of pain can also affect youngsters who carry heavy bags on one shoulder.
Improving your posture while sitting will work wonders. Use special supportive pillows that help bring the baby to the breast rather than the breast to the baby.
IN YOUR 40s
Back pain due to work-related posture is predominant in our 40s, when we’ve had about 20 years of sitting at a desk, standing all day or lifting heavy loads.
If you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, you may end up suffering from neck and upper back pain due to poor workstation design that forces you to look down with your shoulders hunched up over a keyboard. Good posture and better workstation ergonomics will help alleviate this.
Sit in your chair properly with your lower back supported as much as possible by a back rest and a lumbar support pad or a rolled-up towel. The screen should be positioned one arm’s length away from you and aligned with your body so you face it straight, with the top of the screen at eye level.
Devices such as the Backpainhelp Posture Stand (£39.99), approved by The London Spine Clinic, ensures the optimum position when working on a computer, laptop or tablet as it reminds you to sit properly, take breaks and exercise regularly.
If you have a physical job that involves a lot of lifting and working in an awkward position, learning good lifting techniques will help.
IN YOUR 50s
This is the stage of life when there may be a loss of fitness and many people begin to gain weight, putting added pressure on the spine, joints and muscles.
If you are carrying extra pounds, you can begin to experience pain in the upper, middle or lower back and it can significantly contribute to problems. Staying fit and keeping your weight down is key for a healthy back.
IN YOUR 60s
This is when it is more common to experience degeneration of the joints, discs and other spinal tissues. Osteoarthritis can affect the back just as it does other joints in the body.
The hormone oestrogen plays an important role in maintaining bone strength. Once levels drop during the menopause, bone health can be affected, making women of this age vulnerable to osteoporosis, the condition which causes bones to become so weak and fragile they can fracture after even a minor fall.
The condition causes sufferers to lose full mobility for up to 40 days each time they break a bone.
If you are concerned about your bone health, talk to your GP about having a DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) scan, a special type of X-ray that measures bone density. It can diagnose osteoporosis or assess someone’s risk of developing it.
A range of treatments is available including bisphosphonates, commonly prescribed drugs taken in tablet form or via an injection or drip which can reduce the risk of broken bones in the spine.