Looking after your back in older age

As we age, back aches and pains become more frequent and can have a detrimental effect on our everyday lives.  As part of Backcare Awareness Week, we’ve taken a look at the causes of, effects and treatments available for back pain.  

Common Causes

There are three main causes of back pain in the elderly:

  • Degenerative changes in discs and joints
  • Spinal Stenosis – the canal that the spine passes through can narrow due to disc degeneration, thickened ligaments or arthritis facet joints
  • Spondylolisthesis – one spinal vertebra can slip forward or backward onto the vertebra below

Easing back pain

Different approaches work for different people when dealing with aggravated back pain.  There are three approaches that should be considered before surgery is even considered an option; conservative therapies, complementary therapies and advanced therapies.

Here are just a few things you should consider to keep your back pain-free and mobile:

Be more physically active

The more active you are the better you’ll feel.  Keep active and you will bounce back from a back pain episode much quicker.

Physical Therapy

A physician or therapist can design a back-healthy programme of exercises for you.  This will help you gain strength, balance and flexibility.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin can halt inflammation pain.  Consistently taking the medication 2-3 times a day for a 5-10 day period is more efficient than as-needed dosing.

Applying cold

When back pain first strikes reach for the ice, either an ice pack or a good old bag of frozen peas will do.  20 minutes on and 20 minutes off will help ease painful inflammation.

Applying heat

After 2-3 days of back pain apply heat via a heat pad or a hot bath.  This helps relax the back muscles and stimulate blood flow.  Stretch the warmed muscles to prevent muscle spasms after applying the heat.

Rest up (but only for a bit)

Gentle stretching is better than bed rest.  Any bed rest beyond 48 hours can increase the intensity and duration of the back pain.  

Complementary medical techniques can be added if pain continues.

Acupuncture (dry needling)

This therapy can relieve chronic pain by stimulating the body’s healing process and can be extremely effective in relief of back pain. 


Osteopaths can mobilise, adjust, massage and stimulate the spine and the surrounding tissue.

VHH - blog - acupuncture
VHH - blog - osteopathy

More advanced treatments are also available if pain becomes chronic and persistent.

Nerve blockers and injections

Steroids with or without anesthetics can be injected to reduce pain and inflammation.  More extreme treatments available are; radio frequency ablations, spinal cord stimulators and lumber decompression.

Here are three simple seated exercises that can help improve mobility, relieve pain and strengthen the back:

Seated neck and chest stretch

Sitting straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor place your hands behind your head.


Exhale and lower the left elbow.

Take 2 breaths and return to the centre.


Exhale and lower the right elbow.

Take 2 breaths and return to the centre.

Repeat 3-5 times.

Seated gentle back bend

Sitting straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, press your hands into your lower back.


Exhale and gently arch the spine.

Straighten and repeat 5-10 times

Seated reach back

In the same seated position as for the previous exercises.

Inhale deeply.

Exhale and reach behind your back and interlace your hands.

Inhale again.

Exhale and roll your shoulders up and back.

Repeat 3-5 times.

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