Healthy muscles enable our bodies to move freely and to keep them responsive and strong. Muscles play a crucial role in various coordinated activities, such as posture, ambulation (the ability to walk without the need for assistive measures), and actions that come with daily living, leisure, work, and sport. As a result, unhealthy muscles will limit an individual’s ability to perform these movements and raises their chances of experiencing a structural injury, lowered psycho-social health (for example, poor self-image), or reduced health and fitness levels overall. In North America, some common conditions that involve muscles and the skeletal system include low back pain, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis.
Low Back Pain
This first condition brings with it the risk of increasing with age. About one-third of people who have faced low back pain will feel recurrent discomfort in that area. It can range in severity from muscle aches to disability. The cause of low back pain can be attributed to many factors, like fracture due to compressive loads or osteoporosis, pinched nerves, muscle sprains, osteoarthritis, inflammation, or spondylolisthesis (the forward movement of a vertebra compared to the one below it). In contrast, it is usually difficult to identify the source of the pain because a clear picture cannot always be gathered from medical images.
Low back pain is equally prevalent among women and men, has a strong relationship with muscle flexibility and strength, and can be connected to abdominal obesity or low back strain. One method to lower the risk of developing low back pain is to practice proper lifting techniques. While lifting, it is essential to reduce the load on the back muscles, in addition to using the stronger leg muscles to lift the load as much as possible. This can be achieved by keeping the weight or item as close to one’s body or centre of mass as they are able to allow. Another important element when preventing injuries of this kind is to limit twisting motions during lifts, as this will compress the vertebrae. In terms of maintaining back stability, the core (trunk) muscles play a vital role. The vertebrae are better stabilized when the abdominal and back muscles are in a healthy state.
Two main forms of arthritis have been observed: rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Of these, the more common one is the latter. The occurrence of osteoarthritis increases with age, and it is frequently referred to as a “wear-and-tear” condition. It results from the breaking down of the protective cartilage covering the ends of the bones. Osteoarthritis can be linked to family history, consequences of overuse (due to repetitive work or sports), or injuries. The symptoms of this condition include stiffness and pain in the joints, often being worse after exercise. Discomfort of this type can also have a higher intensity following long stretches of inactivity (for instance, in the morning), but can be lessened with modest physical activity (such as using a warm-up routine). Any joint has the potential to be impacted by osteoarthritis, although the knee and hip joints are the most prevalent. Weight loss, exercise, and protecting the joints are common recommendations as part of the treatment for this condition.
Osteoporosis is a state characterized by low bone mineral density. On the inside of the bones, there is a porous matrix that provides strength without the addition of increased weight. This is similar to a scaffolding structure, in contrast to a solid mass. As part of aging, there is a thinning of this matrix, meaning the bones become more porous and less strong. Borderline osteoporosis is referred to as osteopenia. Furthermore, as populations grow older, the prevalence of osteoporosis increases. It is related to obesity, as well as dietary and physical activity components. Frequent symptoms of the condition involve pain originating from the bones and/or lower back, height loss, night cramps in the legs and feet, dowager’s hump (the forward bending of the spine), and fractures. Osteoporosis affects women to a greater extent than men, as men tend to have a higher bone mineral density than women. The top osteoporotic fracture occurs at the hip, followed by the vertebrae and wrists.
The condition ties in with diets lacking in calcium or vitamin D, hormone imbalance (after menopause), physical inactivity, or endocrine or nutritional disorders (like diabetes and hyperthyroidism). Later in life, the rate of decline in bone mineral density can be influenced by healthy lifestyle habits and medication. A significant takeaway is that bone is not a stagnant structure, but is broken down and reformed on a consistent basis. Thus, it is extremely beneficial for older individuals to assess and possibly change some of their daily behaviours, in order to support the balance of this cycle.