|The Health System has launched a first-of-its-kind program for people age 60 and older with chronic back problems. Called the Geriatric Spine Program, it offers one-stop shopping for treatment by a variety of specialists.|
But unlike younger peoples back problems, which often have a fixable cause, the back pain of older Americans isnt as easy to relieve. Whether its osteoporosis, arthritis, shrinking padding between backbones or just the normal changes that come with aging, the elderly face some of the most difficult causes of chronic back pain.
Thats why the Health System has launched a first-of-its-kind program for people age 60 and older with chronic back problems. Called the Geriatric Spine Program, it offers one-stop shopping for treatment by a variety of specialists.
Back pain in the elderly usually causes a decrease in function, much more so than in the younger population, so that theyre not able to do the basic things like get around, be independent in the community, and do the things they used to do, says Anne Christopher, director of the program.
Whats more, it can be more difficult to get elderly people back on their feet after a back pain episode because their pain tends to be more chronic.
Christopher and her colleagues hope their new program will be a model for others. That way, they hope to help the nearly 6 million Americans age 65 and older who, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases estimates, suffer frequent lower back pain. And with the countrys average age inching ever higher, and 12 percent of Michigans population expected to be age 65 or older by next year, more of us than ever will soon be saying Oh, my aching back!
The eight-week U-M course starts with a half-day individual assessment, followed by solo and group meetings with a team of experts in physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, nursing, case management and exercise physiology. The team pays special attention to what kind of home activities the patients cant do because of their back pain, and tries to find ways to restore some of that function safely.
The geriatric population has very specific needs because the patients arent going back to a workplace, and because they often have so many other health issues affecting their function, Christopher says. They really need a program designed to suit their individual needs, and thats what we do.
Often, the first step toward recovering some of the lost ability is getting into better shape, Christopher says. We work with our patients to increase their flexibility and strength, as well as cardiovascular conditioning and endurance, she explains. We also address issues of biomechanics, to help them understand the best and easiest possible way to do things, so that theyre not injuring their backs more.
Individual therapists work on each patients gait, posture and balancethree areas often worsened by general weakness due to lack of exercise. And, they constantly work within the constraints of each patients other health conditions. Besides building a model for others to copy, Christopher and her colleagues hope to generate much-needed research results on what worksand what doesntto improve strength and function and relieve back pain among the elderly.
Our goals are really to see how we can keep this population independent and not at risk for falling and having further functional decline, she says.
The elderly and back pain
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:
According to the Michigan Aging Services System: