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Does your back hurt often? Thirty-nine percent of adults and 45 percent of people age 65 and older reported experiencing back pain in the past three months. 2021 report From the National Center for Health Statistics. and a A systematic review In the year A 2022 study published in the Journal of Pain found that 36 percent of adults age 60 and older have chronic low back pain (that is, it has persisted for at least 12 weeks).

“Back pain is ubiquitous in our society, especially in the elderly,” said Peter Wang, M.D., an associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. Age, as Osteoarthritis or worn spinal discs.

Hamza Khalid, a spine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, says there are effective treatments for the condition, and most do not require medication. Consider these steps:

While exercise may not be appealing when your back hurts, being active can help reduce pain and prevent it in the future. “Movement increases blood flow to your spinal tissues and joints, which helps them feel better,” says Colin Lu, founder of Evidence in Motion in San Antonio.

A good place to start is with pool aerobics or simply walking in the pool, Lue says. These are easy on your joints and build strength as well as confidence. “When people realize they can be active without pain, it gives them the confidence to do things when they get out of the water,” she says. Other options include gentle yoga and tai chi, a mind-body practice with slow, gentle movements. “They help to stretch and strengthen the back muscles, and also make you feel more comfortable during movement.”

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You can also ask your doctor if seeing a physical therapist is right for you. A PT can give you an individualized exercise program and help you figure out ways to move with less pain.

“Elderly people take shorter steps because their center of gravity has changed,” Lue says. But short and narrow steps can aggravate back pain. We can work with them to get them to take bigger steps, which will increase blood flow to their spinal area.

A physical therapist can teach you “nerve stretches,” says Lowe, which are gentle exercises to stretch and relieve irritated nerves in your back.

Use the power of your mind

Some doctors may recommend talking therapies to help change your response to pain and encourage you to set activity goals and work out. A Small 2021 study In the journal Pain Reports, for example, he looked at psychophysiological symptomatic relief therapy, which addresses the stress that contributes to pain. At the end of six months of such treatment, 64 percent of patients said that they were completely free of pain.

“Meditation is a good option for patients who have tried other conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, but failed to find relief,” Khalid says.

Ask your doctor where you can find speech therapy for back pain. You may be able to find a pain management program at a large medical center. You can search the American Psychological Association. Find a therapist as well as.

It’s also important to manage daily stress and get enough sleep, says David Hanscom, a retired spine surgeon and author of “Back in Control: A Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain.”

A 2022 study Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, it has been proven that sleep problems can cause low back pain and vice versa.

Don’t just rely on massage

A number of complementary treatments are sometimes used for low back pain. They include massage, chiropractic (where a chiropractor moves your spinal joints beyond their normal range of motion) and acupuncture (where fine needles are inserted into specific points on the body).

do they work For short-term back pain, the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends acupuncture, heat, massage and spinal manipulation. But “I don’t see massage and acupuncture as primary treatments,” says Wang. “These are more passive treatments that teach you to stretch your back and strengthen your core, unlike active treatments like physical therapy.”

Especially for massage a 2015 Cochrane Research Review Although it helped improve back pain, the quality of the evidence was low. It has also been proven that massage does nothing to improve overall back function. Also, note that the above treatments are not always covered by insurance and can be expensive.

If you sometimes need more relief, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil and generic) may be a first choice, according to ACP guidelines. But it’s often not appropriate for older adults, who have a higher risk of side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding, says Jesse Charnoff, MD, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

If you stay below 3,000 mg daily, acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) may be a safer bet, he says. Diclofenac Topical (Voltaren Arthritis Pain and Generic), an OTC anti-inflammatory cream, provides relief. (However, this and other anti-inflammatory drugs may not be suitable for people taking blood thinners.)

Another option may be an OTC patch containing lidocaine, a numbing agent. For all of the above, ask your doctor how often and for how long you can use them.

If you don’t see any improvement after treatments like PT or the medications mentioned above, ACP recommends the prescription antidepressant duloxetine (Cymbalta and generic) so talk to your doctor.

Prescription muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril and generic) can lead to drowsiness and increase the risk of falls, so discuss your condition with your doctor. Avoid prescription opioids, which can lead to dependence. They are no more effective than placebo for short-term low back pain, a 2023 in a Lancet studyAnd it can cause side effects like constipation and dizziness, which can be more pronounced in the elderly, Charnoff says.

Relief of acute burns

For those moments when discomfort is mounting, doctors say these four strategies can help you feel better.

Move, but do it slowly. When you’re in severe pain, it’s still important to try low-stress activities like walking and light stretching. “The biggest mistake people make is going on bed rest,” says Charnoff. If you stay active, you will recover faster. Move in whatever way is comfortable, and take slow steps to increase the range of motion you can tolerate.

Try the heat. You can place a heating pad on the affected area or wrap it. Apply several times a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

Take this medicine as needed. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) is generally best used for three to five days, following the package directions on the medication.

Position yourself for a comfortable sleep. Try sleeping on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between your knees. This puts less stress on your spine.

Let your doctor know if your discomfort is interfering with daily activities. Do the same if severe back pain persists for more than four weeks despite taking some of the steps above.

Call a doctor right away if you have back pain even while sleeping, or if the pain spreads to your lower legs or is accompanied by fever, leg weakness, or bowel or bladder incontinence. The same is true if you have a history of cancer or osteoporosis, or if your back pain is the result of a fall or accident. These signs and conditions may indicate a more serious problem, such as a fracture or cauda equina syndrome, where the nerves at the base of the spine are compressed. Your doctor may want to see you right away or may refer you to a specialist.

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