The physiology of ageing increases our risk of musculoskeletal injuries. Muscle mass can decrease with age due to the decreased number and size of muscle fibres. The mineral content of bone also decreases, which results in decreased bone density and strength. Ligaments lose their elasticity, and tendon stiffness increases. These changes can lead to joint stiffness, decreased mobility and decreased shock absorption in our joints due to cartilage degeneration. Here are some musculoskeletal conditions that are more prevalent in older adults:
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is characterized by structural deterioration of bone tissue and low bone mass. This results in bone fragility and increased fracture risk. It is most common in ages 50+, and females are at a greater risk than males. Menopausal hormonal changes in females are associated with a 3% bone loss per year. Osteoporosis commonly occurs in the spine and leads to increased back pain, spinal curvatures and fractures. Risk factors include repetitive poor posture, inactive lifestyle, poor nutrition, smoking and drinking alcohol excessively. Fortunately, weight-bearing exercises and having a regular resistance training routine can increase bone density and help to prevent the development of osteoporosis.
Degenerative Disc Disease: Degenerative disc disease is a condition that occurs in the spine, most commonly the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) spine. As we age, normal wear and tear slowly lead to a breakdown of the joints of the spine. When this degeneration occurs earlier or more pronounced, it is termed degenerative disc disease. The breakdown of the joint spaces leads to a loss of disc height, narrowing of joint space and decreased shock absorption. This can cause pain, loss of the normal spinal curvature and nerve root referral patterns of pain and/or numbness. Risk factors include accumulation of injuries, poor health, repetitive poor posture, and poor thoracic mobility. It also occurs more commonly in males than females. Inactivity further exacerbates these symptoms, causing stiffness and inflammation pooling in the joints. Gentle, low-impact activities can help reduce stiffness by promoting circulation and increasing joint lubrication. Regular physical activity, maintaining good overall health and mobility can help prevent and slow spinal joint degeneration.
Rotator Cuff Injuries: The rotator cuff consists of four muscles in the shoulder joint: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These muscles attach to our upper arm bone and stabilize it in the shoulder joint. The incidence of injury of one or more of these muscles increases with age. Repetitive microtraumas from overuse, injury or impingement leads to degeneration of the muscles and tendons. Risk factors include poor posture, poor biomechanics, muscle weakness and repetitive injury. Injury risk can be reduced through strength, biomechanical correction and manual therapy, especially if started early.
These injuries all result from accelerated degeneration of body tissues. Some degeneration as we age is normal and expected, but it does not need to cause pain or limit activities. The good news is we can combat many of these physiological changes and reduce injury risk through regular physical activity and proper nutrition. The earlier we start the better, but starting at any age will still have positive benefits. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, contact me today to create a treatment and rehabilitation plan to help reduce your pain and get you moving again! Call/text 403.229.0129 or email me here.