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Should I Have Pain Simply Because I'm Aging?

January 13, 2015

by Andrew Gorecki, DPT

Should I have Pain Simply Because I'm Aging? This is a statement that I hear from patients on a daily basis.  This is a very frustrating thing for a physical therapy because it shows that the patient does not feel there is a solution to their particular problem. That problem may be lower back pain, shoulder pain, difficulty walking, poor balance, etc. The list is literally endless but it seems that the response or the answer is consistently the same.  There are even doctors that tell their patients that they are simply getting older and this is part of the process.  I’m here to tell you as loud as I possibly can without using capital letters (as this is a big annoyance for me personally) is that there is no physiological or scientific evidence that aging has to equal pain, ever.  Now there is science to support that aging does increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis, disc space narrowing in the spine and other physical or biological changes but these do not have to equal pain.  The reality is that science supports overwhelming that movement is the answer to the aging process and avoiding pain.  I would add that not all movement is created equal and that prescriptive movement is necessary as we age.  Let me tell a story to support my reasoning.

A few months ago I met a sweet little lady in her mid-80’s who had been suffering with lower back pain for over 15 years.  This lower back pain that she was dealing with was effecting every aspect of her life, from caregiving for her husband to playing with her great grandchildren. She was literally at the end of the day unable to walk due to her pain in her lower back.  She was unable to sleep as well due to her pain and this was creating a level of depression that was making what would normally be a joy being around her great grandchildren not so enjoyable.  When I met her I was immediately surprised by what all of her healthcare providers had told her. She had the typical course of treatment which included first a round of anti-inflammatories followed by multiple images including an x-ray and MRI which then led to the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease and lumbar stenosis.  There were a few cortisone injections that relieved the symptoms for a few months but ultimately nothing had helped this women.  The conclusion from everyone around her was that her lumbar stenosis must equal pain and that she is going to have to live with it.  We had the opportunity to meet this women for some pain in her feet that was adding to her difficulty walking.  After hearing her story it became very clear that her foot was hurting but her lower back was really having the biggest effect in her life.  Thankfully after her exam it became very clear that her foot pain and limitations were actually contributing to her lower back pain.  Long story short we focused on increasing her foot mobility which then in turn increased her hip mobility and ultimately relieved her lower back pain.  The point I am trying to make is that we should never accept that old age is why we have pain.  We have pain because our body is trying to tell us that something is moving wrong.  Therefore the solution is we must figure out how to get our movement better to take away the pain.  It is very similar to an automobile analogy in that yes I may have bad wear patterns on my tires and it can be painful to buy new tires but is the solution really to buy new tires or get the alignment fixed.  I think we know that answer to that one.  So often times a recommend books to patients and I have a good one on this topic. The book is called Younger Next Year and the author is Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, MD.  It’s a great read and hopefully will encourage you to not accept old age as a reason to stop moving.  Also if you would like us to look at your movement to help guide you to some prescriptive exercise give us a call 231.944.6541.  I would also encourage you that if you know someone in your family or a friend who is limited due to pain with movement and they seem to think it is simply because of old age send them our way.  Thanks for taking the time to listen and I hope you are working every day to have better movement because it matters.


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