Back Pain Risk More in Older Men

Back pain is the most common type of pain elderly men complain of, and it might indicate a greater danger of falling, even for individuals with no other handicaps, in accordance with a recent U.S. study.

“Pain isn't thought of as a fall risk factor that was normal, but our study demonstrated that back pain is a risk factor for falls among elderly men,” Marshall told Reuters Health by email.

She and her colleagues examined data on almost 6,000 men over age 65 living at home. Between 2002 and 2000, the participants filled out baseline surveys about back pain – whether they had experienced it in the previous 12 months, how serious it was and where the pain was frequently it occurred.

Over the following year, the guys also reported every four months on whether they'd fallen and just how many times.

The researchers also collected information on the men’s drug use, dizziness, disabilities and other body areas experiencing pain to account for the influence of those variables on the danger of a tumble.

Among these, 62 percent had pain just in the low back, 9 percent reported the pain as severe, 20 percent were disturbed by their pain "all or most of the time" and 30 percent limited their activities because of the pain.

Throughout another year 1,388 men – one quarter of the group – fell at least once, and 632 guys had multiple drops, according to the results in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Although the threat of dropping merely once was the same between groups, the guys with back pain were 30 percent more likely than those without it to drop multiple times.

The hazard of any tumble was higher for people with pain in two parts of the back, nevertheless, and higher for people with three or more sites of pain, compared to those without any back pain.

Men with more severe back pain or pain that appeared more frequently were also at greater risk for falls.

“Falls and especially injuries from falls are a common source of impairment and functional decline among older men, but are preventable through comparatively cost-effective interventions,” said Dr. Thomas Gill, a professor of geriatric medicine at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Gill noted that adding grab bars in bathrooms and making security alterations such as tacking rugs down in the home could be useful for folks vulnerable to dropping.

Exercise and “Physical task, especially focusing on gait, balance and muscle strength, are valuable,” he said by email, adding that suitable footwear is essential.

Minimizing the amount of drugs that may influence the mind or blood pressure might also be useful to prevent falls, Gill said.

Falls are the leading cause of death and injury in elderly Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study doesn’t establish that back pain causes falls.

It’s potential that fear of falling, or the link could be explained by cognitive issues associated with the back pain, the researchers write, but more studies are needed to understand the connection.

“Falls result when we fail to regain it and lose our balance,” Marshall noted. “To avoid falls, we have to be aware of the conditions that could cause us to lose the states and also equilibrium that prevent regaining equilibrium.”

Marshall advocates dropping or talking to one’s doctor about any concerns about balance and that people inquire how better to adapt their homes to avoid falls. More discussions on back pain can be found at pain forums

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