Back Pain Is Unrelated to Age

There's some thought that middle-aged working people are at greatest risk for back pain. But, in fact, according to this study of centenarians (age 100 or more), neck and back pain are just as common at age 20, 40, 60, up to 100-plus.

A survey of Danish 100-year-olds conducted by face-to-face interviews assessed the prevalence of back and neck pain. Such a study was possible since all Danish citizens are required to register with the Danish Civil Registration System.

Anyone born in 1905 was contacted in 2005 by telephone. Participation was voluntary. About half the people old enough in the registry to participate agreed to the interview. Data was collected about general health (physical and mental), function, and quality of life.

The results showed that neck and back pain are a fact of life at any age. Age doesn't really seem to be a factor at all -- unless specific types of back or neck pain only occur at certain ages. More study is needed to sort out that idea. The survey did show that anyone with back pain had poorer self-rated health, including physical function and depression.

It's likely that the oldest of the old who didn't respond to this survey may have worse health compared to those who did get involved with this study. That means the results of this study are probably underestimated.

Given the results of this survey, the authors suggest that preventing pain may not be a realistic goal. It may make more sense to focus on avoiding irrational pain behavior and keeping symptoms from becoming chronic. Given the high prevalence of this condition in the general population of all ages, the cost of neck and back pain to society may be less with this type of approach. This would be true for young and old alike.

Jan Hartvigsen, DC, PhD, and Kaare Christensen, MD, PhD. Pain in the Back and Neck Are with Us Until the End. In Spine. April 15, 2008. Vol. 33. No. 8. Pp. 909-913.

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