Sarcopenia means the loss of muscle tissue/mass from the natural aging process. Something that all of us are going through. However, when chronic back pain is involved it can speed up the natural process, which can lead to various health issues. Keeping the body fit and the spine healthy is the objective with approaches that can be utilized and employed to help maintain muscle mass.
By the time an individual turns 30, the muscles are large and strong. But going into the 30s, individuals begin to lose muscle mass and function. Individuals that are physically inactive can lose up to 5% of muscle mass every ten years after 30. Even those who are regularly active, still lose some muscle. Sarcopenia typically kicks-in around age 75-80. However, it could speed up as early as 65. It becomes a factor in bone frailty and increases the risk of falls and fractures in older adults.
Muscle Tissue Changes and Back Pain
Loss of muscle mass causes individuals to have a lesser degree of strength and function. As the decline continues, mobility lessens, and disability increases. With less muscle strength individuals become perfect candidates for falls/injury/s and become more prone to weight pain.
Body composition shifts can play a major role in issues like spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease. Bone density also decreases with age increasing the risk of mobility issues. This means less activity which can make back pain worse and keeps the degenerative cycle going. The back pain intensifies, physical function is very limited, and low bone mineral density brings down an individual’s quality of life.
Symptoms and Causes
- Loss of stamina
With reduced activity muscle mass becomes further shrunk. Sarcopenia is seen more often in individuals that are inactive. However, it is also seen in individuals that are physically active on a regular basis. This suggests that there are other factors involved. Researchers think these could be:
- The ability to turn protein into energy is decreased
- There are not enough calories/protein per day to maintain muscle mass
- A reduction in the nerve cells that are responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles when moving, contracting, extending, etc
- Low concentration of certain hormones, including:
- Growth hormone
- Insulin-like growth factor
Because it can affect younger individuals as well, specifically those who are leading sedentary lifestyles and are overweight, prevention is the key. It is a domino effect that:
- Starts with reduced activity
- That leads to weight gain
- Causing even less activity
When the body’s muscles are not being used they begin to atrophy. Fortunately, the loss can be reversible to a certain degree. Helping to build the muscle mass back up and help prevent sarcopenia is the goal.
Muscles need a degree of stress to grow, which is then followed by recovery. Low-impact training programs/exercises performed at least two to three days per week can help keep the muscles healthy and in top form.
General physical activity
Exercise does not have to only be a regimented training form. Being active means keeping the body moving and mobile on a regular basis. This can be gardening, vacuuming, taking a walk around the neighborhood, parking far away when shopping to walk more, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Anything that involves moving the body regularly and keeps the muscles active will help in the prevention process.
There is a wasting syndrome known as Cachexia. There is a connection between protein consumption and muscle mass. Older adults are at risk of low protein intake because they do not synthesize amino acids as effectively as they used to. Whey protein is recommended specifically because it creates and maintains high concentrations of amino acids in the blood. Other protein choices include:
- Greek yogurt
- Peanut butter
- Lean animal proteins
Sarcopenia prevention will promote better back/general health for every age group. However, it is crucial for those who are experiencing accelerated muscle loss like individuals over 50 and especially after 60. Resistance/strength training or some form of physical activity done on a regular basis can significantly slow the decline.
But heavy-weights are not necessary. Older individuals might believe weight training means they have to lift heavy with fewer reps and more weight. It is actually the opposite, with more reps and lighter weight. An example could be doing 20 reps with a 5-pound weight instead of 5 reps with a 20-pound weight. The total amount of weight being lifted is the same in both cases.
This approach benefits the individual because of the less load/strain on the bones and joints. It also allows older individuals to do more sessions per week, keeping the active overall. Those experiencing sarcopenia, and with lumbar stenosis, to do exercises that challenge the muscles without adding additional pressure on the joints. This could be:
- Walking in a swimming pool
Bodyweight/calisthenic exercises like pushups, squats, and wall slides can also be beneficial. The focus should be on regular activity that can progress slowly, and promotes tone without risk of injury. Muscle tone is maintained by activity and is essential for everyone. Get a routine, keep moving and the body will benefit greatly.
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