The human body is a strong and powerful thing. But as we age, even the strongest of bodies have limitations. The things that helped us to function in our youth (muscles that help us move and bones that give us structure) begin to deteriorate slowly and this deterioration can lead to serious injuries.
Many who have hit the Big 50 understand the value of being active, exercising and working to stay in shape. That being said, once we near or hit the fifth decade, changes start happening to our bones, joints, tendons and muscles. Our bodies begin to lose bone mass faster than we can rebuild it. Our cartilage, ligaments and tendons start to dry out, becoming brittle and less supple, and our coordination and balance may not be as sharp as it was previously. Not surprisingly, these things have a tremendous impact on orthopedic health and you can sustain a variety of age-related chronic pain, ailments, injuries and other orthopedic issues.
Top 5 Injuries in People Over 50
While arthritis and arthritis-related pain and stiffness is by far the foremost complaint of older middle age (around age 50 and up), the following injuries are frequently cited in patients over 50.
Tennis Elbow (and Other Weekend Warrior Injuries)
Doctors have long recommended staying active as you age to maintain optimal health, but too much physical activity (or the wrong kind) can also have its downsides. One of the most common injuries seen in active individuals over the age of 50 is repetitive strain and overuse injuries, specifically tennis elbow. This overuse injury can be caused by everything from using a computer mouse to playing tennis (hence, the name) and affects the tendons in the outside of the elbow joint. If you are experiencing weak grip strength and a painful soreness or burning sensation in the outside of the elbow, you may have this condition.
Tennis elbow can be a sports injury, as the name implies, but it can also be caused by knitting, using a computer mouse, typing, doing yard work, playing a musical instrument, or repetitive use of tools hammers or screwdrivers. Anything you do repetitively for hours at a time can lead to an overuse injury like tennis elbow. Tendonitis in other parts of the body is also commonly seen in people over 50 — for example, rotator cuff tendonitis, and Achilles tendonitis.
These thin, hairline fractures are caused by repetitive impact force, and overuse. Stress fractures are most common in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. For example, road runners over 50 may develop stress fractures in their shins, brought on by a combination of impact (running on a hard asphalt surface) and loss of bone density. You may be more prone to develop a stress fracture when taking on a new exercise regimen, and doing too much too quickly.
Lower Back Problems
Many people (especially men) develop back problems in their 40s due to a combination of risk factors including a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, arthritis, and a loss of bone density. Back pain, especially pain in the lower back, is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. Approximately 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Causes can range from excess weight and sitting too much, to wear and tear on the spine, congenital conditions or previous surgeries. Most back pain is muscle-related and will get better on its own or with self-treatment. If back pain does not subside within a few weeks, it is time to visit the doctor.
Spine and back care are offered through multiple specialty areas – orthopedics, neurosurgery, sports medicine and pain management – depending on patient need. Our treatments encompass physical therapy, innovative non-surgical pain interventions and the latest surgical procedures.
Rotator Cuff Tears and Bicep Tendon Injury
The rotator cuff is the part of your shoulder joint that allows you to lift and rotate your arm. Over time, normal wear and tear in the shoulder joint weakens the dominant shoulder, especially in people who perform frequent tasks that require overhead motions. Damage to the rotator cuff (muscles, tendons and ligaments holding the joint together) is increasingly common as people age. Shoulder dislocations lead to rotator cuff tears in anywhere from 35 to 86 percent of patients aged sixty and older.
Rotator cuff tears are often associated with degenerative changes that occur with aging and can impact both active and non-active adults. Keeping shoulders strong and staying fit through exercise are the best ways to avoid problems. But while exercise is key to keep muscles strong, avoid overdoing it and stay away from exercises that cause significant shoulder pain.
ACL Tears and Meniscus Tears
Often doctors will discover that older patients complaining of knee pain have meniscus tears, or torn cartilage in their knees. These tears are similar to those seen in athletes, but rather than being caused by trauma on the field, they are simply the result of aging tissue that is more prone to tears. Added weight can add stress to knee joints and cause pain and other problems. Due to hormonal changes, women are anywhere from 2 to 10 times more likely as men to sustain ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears and ruptures — and this likelihood increases after 40. ACL tears and ruptures can happen when you land wrong after jumping, when you pivot or twist your body with your feet in a fixed position or when you sustain an impact to your knees while your feet are planted.
As for meniscus tears, both men and women alike are prone to damaging the rubbery, disc-shaped “shock absorber” cartilage inside the knee joint. Meniscus (cartilage) tears can happen when playing sports, but many people over 30 tear their menisci doing everyday activities like climbing and descending stairs, hiking, kneeling or squatting, or walking on rough terrain.
Why You Injure Yourself More in Your 50s
As you approach middle age, your muscles, bones, and joints change composition. Certain natural processes that help your body rebuild and strengthen begin to slow down, making injury more likely.
Here are a few facts you might not realize about your musculoskeletal system as it approaches, or passes, age 50:
- Bones Lose Mass
During childhood and adolescence, the skeleton grows in both size and density. In fact, up to 90 percent of peak bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and by age 20 in boys. At that point, bones have reached their maximum strength and density. Women tend to experience minimal change in total bone mass between age 30 and menopause. But in the first few years after menopause, most women go through rapid bone loss, a “withdrawal” from the bone bank account, which then slows but continues throughout the post-menopausal years. This loss of bone mass can lead to osteoporosis. Given the knowledge that high peak bone density reduces osteoporosis risk later in life, it makes sense to pay more attention to those factors that affect peak bone mass.
- Muscles Also Lose Mass
Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures. People with sarcopenia have 2.3 times the risk of having a low-trauma fracture from a fall, such as a broken hip, collarbone, leg, arm or wrist.
- Cartilage and Tendon Become Drier
For movement to occur, skeletal muscle must contract but they need the help of tendons and ligaments. Tendons are tough, connective tissue that connects a skeletal muscle to a bone. Tendons are strong because they are made up of closely-packed bundles of collagen that are cross-linked together to give them more tensile strength. When you contract a muscle, the tendon pulls on the bone and causes it to move.
As we get older, the cartilage that cushions our bones and joints starts to hold less water. Drier cartilage is more susceptible to wear and tear when we move. As the cartilage rubs away, bone grinds against bone, which can lead to osteoarthritis and inflammation. Tendons — the fibrous collagen cords that attach muscle to bone — also become drier and stiffer, which can make them more likely to tear or rupture when overstretched.
- Ligaments Are Less Elastic
Ligaments consist of bands of thick connective tissue that join bone to bone. As we age, ligaments that secure our bones and joints become less flexible. As with aging tendons, aging ligaments are more likely to sustain damage when pushed past a certain point. This is why healing from a sprained ankle, for example, takes longer when you get older. Ligament tears in the knees and shoulders also become a bigger danger as we age.
- Some People’s Bodies Just Age Sooner
Though most of us start to heal more slowly at around age 40, there is no definitive age at which bone, cartilage, tendon and ligaments begin to degenerate. Lifestyle, diet, body weight, activity level and genetics all play their parts. If you were rough on your body in your youth, you may have a greater than average level of wear and tear on your cartilage as you approach middle age. On the other hand, some people able to maintain rigorous activities without injuries well into their 80’s.
How Can I Get Started?
Orthopedic injuries are some of the more difficult and painful injuries you can sustain and they almost always require one to get proper medical treatment. If you have suffered from a break or fracture, dislocation, knee or rotator cuff injury, seek medical treatment right away.
You will likely be in a lot of pain depending on the complexity of your injury, but even if your pain is moderate, only a proper diagnosis by a professional will be able to determine what exactly has occurred and what needs to be done to remedy things.
The experienced and dedicated orthopedic surgeons at Ventura Orthopedics are here for you. We are committed to helping you through any procedure until optimum health, strength and mobility are restored.
Call us today at 800-698-1280 to schedule an appointment.