Dr. Kaliq Chang with Atlantic Spine Center Offers Tips to Soothe and Strengthen.
As we age, our spine does too, of course – meaning lower back pain becomes more of a looming possibility. But fortunately, many exercises for seniors with lower back pain can help soothe an achy back and strengthen surrounding muscles to keep pain at bay, says Kaliq Chang, MD, of Atlantic Spine Center.
About 8 in 10 Americans experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health. But people who are 60 and older face even higher odds of dealing with low back pain simply because their age equates to a higher risk of degenerating joints in the spine, explains Dr. Chang, an interventional pain management specialist. Osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis, two common causes of lower back pain, also occur more frequently in older adults, he says.
“Pain and stiffness in the lower back that’s worse both in the morning and evening is quite prevalent in my older patients,” Dr. Chang says. “They may complain that their pain even wakes them up at night or intensifies with too much motion during the day. It can hamper their ability to bend comfortably and do all their favorite activities.”
Since “motion is lotion” for the spine, as the saying goes, Dr. Chang typically recommends older adults be more physically active overall, including walking briskly for 20 to 30 minutes daily. But various exercises can specifically help seniors who already cope with lower back pain.
Dr. Chang highlights these back-friendly techniques and how to do them:
Pelvic tilt: Lying on your back on the floor, with legs straight in front of you, tilt your pelvis in toward your chest while keeping the middle of your back on the floor. Hold for 3 seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.
Side bends: Sitting in a hard chair with your feet flat on the floor, keep one hand behind your head and reach the other hand toward the floor. As you lean over, tighten the muscles running along your ribs, waist and hips. Return to your original position and then do the same technique on the opposite side. Repeat 5 times.
The bridge: Lying flat on your back on the floor, bend your knees and place feet flat against the floor. Tighten your “core” muscles in your abdomen, raising your hips until your pelvis forms a straight line between your knees and chest. Don’t arch your back. Hold for three breaths, then lower your pelvis to the floor. Repeat 5 times.
The Superman: Lying face down on the floor with your arms stretched out in front of you – like Superman – raise your head, right arm and left leg about two inches at the same time. Lower and same technique on opposite side. Repeat 5 times.
Knee pulls: Standing while steadying yourself on a nearby table, slowly bend one knee and pull it up to hip level, holding for several seconds. Then lower and do with the other leg. Repeat 5 times.
Pain relief and prevention
Since most cases of back pain are due to so-called “mechanical” causes (meaning the ache can’t be blamed on infection, fracture or other serious medical problems) exercise can play a huge role in helping resolve it, Dr. Chang says.
“For most seniors, easing your aching back is achievable with home-based measures, and exercise is a prominent part of those,” he says. “On top of that, exercise is one of the best ways to prevent back pain from starting, especially as we age, since it helps keep our spinal joints supple and the surrounding muscles strong.”
Related article - Spinal Stenosis, an age related narrowing of the spine.