10 Surprising Causes of Senior Back Pain

One of the more commonplace complaints among seniors involves back pain. Back pain can arise for various reasons, some of which are more widely known than others. In this article, we address 10 rather surprising causes of senior back pain:

  • Not getting enough vitamin D
  • Weak core
  • New grandchild
  • Bedroom is not dark enough
  • Sitting too much
  • Legs are different lengths
  • Smoking
  • Mattress issues
  • Shoes lack support
  • Stress

Not Getting Enough Vitamin D

Some authoritative research studies reveal that seniors with the most severe back pain were also the ones with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their systems. Women tend to be more frequently impacted by this issue than men.

Researchers reported in the journal Menopause found that among postmenopausal women considering spine surgery, those with severe vitamin D deficiency had more severe disc degeneration and back pain. Experts agree that stronger bones can help protect against back pain.

Weak Core

The core refers to the muscles in the midsection of your body. A weak core can be the cause of chronic back pain.

To help build strength, sit or stand straight, imagining that there’s a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you upward. While in this position, tighten your abdominal muscles, trying not to move your pelvis, ribs, or shoulders. Hold that position for as long as you are comfortable.

New Grandchild

Another reason why some seniors experience back pain is that they have been lifting and carrying a new grandchild. When lifting a baby, a senior should widen his or her support base by spreading feet a little apart and bringing the center closer to the ground. Be sure to hold small children close to you when you move them from the floor to crib or from the ground to a car seat, says physical therapist Matthew Minard, owner of Human Movement Optimization in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Imagine there’s a circle around your feet, and stay within that zone,” he says.

Bedroom Is Not Dark Enough

Researchers have discovered that even when you are sleeping, your body can recognize that there is too much light in the room. As a result, your heart rate can increase, and the quality of your sleep decreases. Researchers have also learned that there is a clear, direct association between poor sleep and back pain.

Sleep helps keep our discs in good condition. The jelly-like core of a normal, healthy disc is 80 percent water. When you lie down to rest, your discs can refill for the day ahead. This process becomes more important as people age and discs become drier. To eliminate light from the bedroom, consider getting blackout shades and banning digital devices.

Sitting Too Much

Yet another reason some people develop back pain is that they spend too much time sitting or too much time seated at one time. “If you’re sitting for a period of time, your joints aren’t being used,” says Akhil Chhatre, M.D., director of spine rehabilitation and assistant professor in the departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

According to medical experts, immobility in that nerve-dense location can “jump-start” what is known as the “pain-spasm-pain cycle.” This is a process in which a skeletal muscle spasm causes pain in your spine. That exacerbates the spasm, which, in turn, exacerbates the pain.

One study showed that people who sat for 75 percent of the workday reported more back and neck pain than those who sat less. Less is defined as 25 to 75 percent of the time.

In order to reduce the risk of back pain caused by sitting, observe what we call the 30-minute rule. Do not let yourself sit in the same position for more than half an hour. You can even set an alert on your phone to remind you to get up, move around, or stretch a bit.

Legs Are Different Lengths

About 33 percent of the population have a pair of legs that are not the same length, according to Ryan Enke, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in Rockford, Illinois. Often people are born with slight differences in the length of each leg. In other cases, injuries or arthritis can cause one leg to become shorter.

A leg length difference alters the normal biomechanics of walking and standing, according to Enke. “That puts unequal stress or strain on one side of the body versus the other.” The solution may be as simple as adding a lift into the shoe on the shorter side. Physical therapy can also prove helpful.


According to a Swedish study published in The Spine Journal, smoking damages a person’s spine. Nicotine damages spinal tissue and can weaken bones. This all makes back pain more severe.

Mattress Issues

A mattress that is too old, too soft, or too soft because it is old can be an underlying cause of chronic back pain in seniors. A review of studies published in the Journal of Orthopedics and Traumatology suggests that sleeping on a medium-firm mattress not only improves sleep quality, but this type of mattress also lowers the risk of developing low back pain.

Shoe Lack Support

Shoe support is an important factor in preventing back pain. As a result, you need to seek shoes that provide proper support. For example, you should look for shoes with soles that provide medium firmness and proper arch support.


Medical researchers advise that people “carry stress” at certain locations on their bodies, particularly in their neck and shoulder areas. In addition, stress can cause pain to travel further down a person’s back because of an inflammatory response.

The bottom line is that a senior has at least some control over these different lesser-known causes of back pain. Some lifestyle adjustments can prove beneficial when preventing, controlling, or eliminating back pain caused by one or another of the issues discussed in this article.