Is Back Pain Normal as You Age?

Just about every part of your body changes with age as years of wear-and-tear on your bones, tendons, and ligaments sets in. If you aren’t one of the 80% of Americans who’ve already experienced back pain over the course of their lifetimes, age-related back pain might push you into the majority, especially after you hit your 50th birthday. However, age-related back pain doesn’t have to be inevitable or debilitating if you take the right approach to a healthy lifestyle and identify and treat symptoms promptly rather than waiting until your back pain gets worse.

Here at Orthopaedic Institute for Spinal Disorders in Houston, Dr. Jose Rodriguez-Cordova is an experienced orthopaedic surgeon who helps patients of all ages manage back pain. He answers some of your most important questions about spinal health and age-related back pain below.

What are the most common causes of back pain as you get older?

The most common reasons you may experience back pain as you get older include degenerative changes, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.

Degenerative changes

As you get older, the discs — the cushions between your vertebrae — naturally lose moisture and shrink so they become less effective shock absorbers than they were in your younger years. As this happens, you might experience pain and stiffness as bones in your spine rub against each other.

It’s also not uncommon to rupture a disc as you get older as a result of wear-and-tear, improper lifting, or overexertion. A ruptured, or herniated, disc means some of the inner substance of the disc leaks out into your spinal column through a tear or rupture in the disc’s outer covering. When this happens, it can put pressure on a nerve in your spinal column, causing pain.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is another age-related cause of back pain. Disc degeneration, thickened ligaments, and arthritic facet joints in your spine can cause your spinal canal to narrow. Your spinal cord runs through your spinal canal, so, as it narrows, you can feel the pressure as back pain. Many people feel the discomfort of spinal stenosis as lower back pain.


When one of your vertebrae slips forward onto the vertebra below, it’s called spondylolisthesis. Overuse and frequent overstretching of your lower (lumbar) spine can lead to vertebral slippage. Spondylolisthesis puts pressure on your nerves and causes discomfort.

Spinal arthritis

Spinal arthritis occurs when the facet joints — where each vertebra meets the ones above and below — degenerate as a result of age. Decreased bone mass and osteoporosis can make your vertebrae more vulnerable to fractures, too.

How can I prevent age-related back pain?

While back pain may be a normal part of life to some extent as you continue to celebrate birthdays, there are certainly things you can do to prevent pain from becoming chronic and taking over your life. One of the best things you can do for your back and your overall health is to become more physically active.

Getting enough exercise each day and staying fit as you get older keeps your muscles, joints, and bones strong and flexible. Being physically active and fit can also help you recover from back pain symptoms faster when they arise.

Another thing you can do is to make lifestyle modifications that reduce your risk of developing back pain as you get older. These include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight
  • Improving your posture when you sit and stand
  • Developing good sleeping habits
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Avoiding heavy lifting

If you do have to lift something heavy, lift with your leg muscles, bending at the knees instead of at your waist to avoid putting stress on your back.

To learn more about managing back pain as you age, and treatments that can help relieve chronic back pain, call our friendly staff at Orthopaedic Institute for Spinal Disorders to schedule an appointment at (713) 781-5676. You can also book online anytime.

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