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How Age Impacts Our Back Health

by Thomas Moulson on

Ageing: It’s hard to make sense of and easy to be scared of. Our bodies change a lot throughout our life: we start with nearly 100 more bones than we finish with and hair recedes in one place and accelerates in others, and those are just two of the more obvious ones, but the reality is, to quote Keane: “everybody’s changing”, all the time, and a lot of those changes it impacts your mobility, flexibility and back health.

We seem to notice it more as we get older and more reflective. We examine the changes in our faces and contemplate if gravity has gotten stronger because our skin didn’t always fall that way, did it? Cynicism quickly follows and we notice every little thing that doesn’t quite look or work the same way that it used to and we shake our fists to the sky, bemoaning the passage of time.

But this is where we differ from Keane, because there is joy to be had: we’re more in control of what happens to our bodies than you might think, and with more knowledge and better technology than ever before, we can maybe, finally, put a stop to ageing…ok, maybe not that far; there is no holy grail in this blog post but perhaps a rusty chalice is just as magic once you polish it up. 

Speaking of, let’s get into it... 

We’re Not Daft, Punk.
How Ageing Makes Us Slower, Weaker, Stiffer, Sorer

Reflection (2)

Picture yourself older, who do you see? What colour is your hair? What’s your posture like? Are you sitting down or running around? Are you tired? Whatever your answers are, I have no doubt that the person you imagined was different to the person reading this now. The inescapable fact is that we do change, and we have preconceptions of what that might look like. We follow the graphs and put ourselves inline with the correlations, matching the common samples of others who have aged in the same way. We can predict our future self, somewhat.

But what’s the reality? How does our body, relating to back health, actually change as we?

Muscle mass

One of the most notable effects of ageing is the loss of muscle mass, which brings a lower degree of strength and function, according to research on how muscle tissue changes with ageing. This loss of muscle mass as we age is often called sarcopenia, a condition most, if not all, of us will inherit at some point.

Our muscle mass starts to decrease most notably when we turn 30. We begin to lose about 3% and 8% per decade, until 60, when the decline speeds up and becomes one of the main causes of mobility loss and disability.

8.1

As muscle strength declines, people are more prone to mobility issues, especially when combined with decreasing bone density, arthritis, or osteoporosis. This can exacerbate existing back pain.

For example, a 2020 study found that patients with sarcopenia, a condition characterized by loss of muscle mass, experienced more severe low back pain, reduced physical function, and lower bone mineral density.

Joint Stiffness

The loss of muscle strength as you age can increase pressure on your joints leading to an increased risk of strain and pain.

Joint Pain Study@2x

The above graph takes the averages from Gillet, et al's (2008) paper 'Big Bone Disease'

Increases in Joint stiffness and pain do once again correlate with an increase in age and a lot of these cases will be from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis among other degenerative diseases that wear down cartilage in and around the joints.

It’s easy to see how the back, being home to 100+ joints - more than any other part of the body - would take on a lot of this stress and become stiff.

Flexibility

We lose flexibility as we age for many reasons but the most common ones are increased joint stiffness and a loss of elasticity throughout the muscle tendons and surrounding tissue.

Flexibility study@2x

The above graph is a sample taken from study conducted on 1,728 individuals in 'Flexibility assessment: Normative values for flexitest from 5 to 91 years of age' by Claudio Gil Araujo (2008)

Limited flexibility significantly impacts lower back health. Inflexible muscles and ligaments surrounding the spine restrict motion and contribute to lower back pain.

“See, It’s Natural…”

You might look at those graphs above feeling a mix of fear and validation. It’s what you expected, but part of you wanted to be proved wrong and to see one of those lines to show a positive difference. But it’s true: we age, we get weak.

Life

But hang on a second, before we get all doom and gloom about our fate - how much of a role is age actually playing on our decline? Is it too obvious a villain? Are we using it as a scapegoat? Are we throwing our hands up in the air too easily?

There is one BIG thing, other than ageing, that makes a huge impact on our back health.

Suspect Two:
Our Sedentary Lives

The saying “use it or lose it" didn’t come about for no reason at all. Like any cliché, it’s rooted in some pretty sound advice: If we want to keep using our body like we used to, we need to, well…use it.

Strength Study@2xThe above graph comes from the UK Government website and shows the difference in physical health between those who are active (regular strength and balance activity) and sedentary (lack of strength and balance activity).

Additionally, In a study on the relationship between physical activity and pain, Gracielle Fin, et al (2023) found that the more time dedicated to the practice of sports, the less pain complaints the participants compared to those who led a sedentary lifestyle.

So should a sedentary lifestyle take as much blame as ageing in the case of decreased mobility and bad back health in ageing humans?

Yes, it should. In fact, an increase in physical activity levels has been proposed as a relevant strategy to achieve successful ageing. The World Health Organization (WHO) actually goes as far as to recommend a minimum of 150 min of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week to maintain physical fitness. This prescribed exercise is considered so beneficial because regular physical activity is proven to benefit cardiovascular fitness, prevent falls, and improve muscular strength, which will translate into the reduction of sarcopenia (ie: reduction in loss of muscle mass)

Here are the best ways to prevent deterioration of muscle mass, flexibility and joint mobility:

Move Your Body

Move

Exercises such as swimming and running are great for maintaining muscle mass and mobility. Contrary to popular belief, regular running can actually reduce the risk of back pain and degeneration by keeping the discs healthy and bones strong. And then Swimming provides a low-impact workout that strengthens back muscles and protects the spine's 100+ joints. 

Stretch Your Body

Stretch

Exercises that focus on increasing range of motion such as Yoga and Pilates are a great way to maintain flexibility. Both practices enhance overall flexibility, strengthen core muscles, improve posture, and reduce stress and tension, all of which contribute to better back health.

Treat Your Body

BackHug

Stiff joints in the back are one of the main causes of pain felt throughout the body, so treating these are one of the best ways to get long-lasting relief from stiffness and increase mobility. BackHug is a back care device that uses novel technology to treat stiff joints in the back, becoming the first device in the world to be able to do so. In a recent study conducted by former NASA scientist David Marcarian, using Myit was found that BackHug effectively reduced stress in the back by 31.7% which indicates a significant reduction in back stiffness and an increase in mobility.

Bh Session

“BackHug is one of the best products I have seen in a long time.”

David Marcarian

NASA trained expert on electrophysiology, president of MyoVision, NIH Principal Investigator and Clinical Instructor at UB Jacobs School of Medicine.

 

So..."Get Up, Get On Up"

There is absolutely no doubt that ageing - or age-related deterioration - has a big impact on our body and how we use it. Our muscle mass will decrease, our posture may become more hunched, we may feel stiff and sore more often. These limitations are an unavoidable part of being an ageing human being, but just because the goal posts have moved doesn’t mean we have to stop playing, we just need to adjust our style and play differently.

With exercises like swimming and yoga, and new technology like BackHug, it’s well within the realm of possibility to maintain a physically active lifestyle as we age. We can become outliers on of all the graphs and do more of what we love: we can run, jump, and dance for longer.

 


 

Discover more lifestyle tips for better back health here