Living Longer, But With More Pain

Oct 25, 2016

People are living longer. But that doesn’t always mean they’re living well longer. One of the reasons for the diminished quality of later life is back pain, which the latest Global Burden of Disease study recently named the second most common ailment affecting aging people across the globe. According to Dr. Joseph Chen, Director of the University of Iowa Spine Center, the prevalence of back pain is not surprising.

“Musculoskeletal complaints including back pain are one of the most common reasons that people will go to the doctor,” says Chen. “There are some studies that show that about sixty to eighty percent of the adult population have back pain that doesn’t go away, and they’ll seek doctor’s treatment.”

A major cause of all of this back pain is often normal, age-related spinal degeneration. 

“We have certain components in the spine like the spinal discs that are fairly poorly hydrated. They have very poor blood supply. As we get older, that slowly gets worse, and then the discs will eventually degenerate.”

Chen and other experts explain that this type of pain is more common among people whose work requires more rigorous physical activity. Unsurprisingly, nurses often top the list.

Chris Sagon, a registered nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, says that after years of working with elderly and orthopedic patients, the everyday wear and tear of helping them to turn over or get out of bed took a serious toll on her spine.

“You can’t say, ‘Oh, wait a minute and I’ll go find somebody to help me.’  A lot of times you’re on your own,” she says. 

During this River to River interview, host Ben Kieffer talks to Chen and Sagon about the causes and treatments for chronic back pain.