As we age, our bodies start to change and our joints may begin to tighten up, click, crack, or hurt in places that never bothered you in the past. Before you resign yourself to an “I’m just getting old” mentality, try to understand your body’s physical changes so you can better prepare for things like injuries. “Unfortunately, injuries are a part of our lives,” says Eraldo Maglara NSCA-CPT. “Leading a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing injuries as we age. A combination of exercise, eating smart, and maintaining a positive mental attitude all contribute immensely.”
The good news is that knowledge is power—and could also mean prevention as we age. So, to help you better understand the different aches and pains you may feel now or down the line, we’re outlining the top ten most common injuries for the over 50. Note: If you think you may be experiencing any of these injuries, make an appointment with your doctor. While some injuries heal with rest and time, others are more serious and may require medical attention. Only a professional will be able to provide the best diagnosis and treatment plan for your individual injury.
1. Meniscus Tear
Meniscal tears are the most common knee injury and affect many adults over 50. This injury is preventable with a few simple lifestyle tweaks. “The meniscus is the shock absorbing cartilage that provides cushioning for the knee joint. As we age, the meniscus can degenerate and weaken,” explains Kara Tatelbaum, author and founder of Lazy Girl Pilates. Some symptoms of this injury include:
- Swelling of the knee
- Limited range of motion
Tatelbaum suggests strengthening the hamstrings and glutes to prevent a meniscus tear and avoid surgery. A simple workout option is the glute bridge, which directly targets the glutes and hamstrings. When performing this workout, it’s important to keep the knees aligned and stable. If you find this difficult to do, try placing a small ball between the inner-thighs to help maintain form.
There are various types of hematomas—solid swellings of clotted blood within the tissue—which are usually brought on by an injury to the wall of a blood vessel, where the blood seeps out of the blood vessel into the surrounding tissues. This can happen to any type of blood vessel including the arteries, veins, or small capillaries. The symptoms for hematomas vary by type. Here are some hematoma symptoms to look out for:
- Subdural hematoma: This is usually caused by a head injury that had a strong enough impact to burst a blood vessel, and, as a result, pushed pooled blood onto the brain. Symptoms include headaches, confusion, seizures, and neurological problems that can range from weakness on one side of the body to difficulty speaking.
- Epidural hematoma: Also known as EDH, an epidural hematoma is an accumulation of blood between the tough outer membrane covering the brain and the skull. This is considered a traumatic head injury. If you are experiencing back pain, loss of bowel or bladder control, and weakness in the body you should see your health practitioner.
- Subungual hematoma: This is a collection of blood in the space between the nail bed and the fingernail or toenail. Often this occurs due to direct injury to the blood vessels under the nail bed. Symptoms include nail pain, nail weakness, nail loss, and disfiguring of the nail bed.
It’s important to pay attention to any irregularities in your body. These signs will be key for detection. To diagnose some of these injuries, an MRI and/or CT scan test is typically done in the hospital or a hospital-like setting.
3. Rib Fracture
This is exactly what it sounds like—a fracture to the rib bone. The most common cause for this is a fall, motor vehicle accident, or an injury from playing contact sports. “This typically results in chest pain that is worsened by breathing in and by sneezing,” says Maglara. Additional symptoms include shortness of breath, bruising, tenderness, as well as pain in the rib cage area when bending or twisting. Recovery time is anywhere between three to six weeks.
Maglara suggests applying a cold compress or ice to the affected area in order to decrease swelling and pain. Rest and limited activity are mandatory in order to heal properly. Exercise and overall conditioning of your body will strengthen and help in the recovery process.
4. Rotator Cuff Injury
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that support and surround the shoulder joint. An injury typically occurs when there is a tear or strain placed on the rotator cuff. A tear often involves the rotator cuff tendons, which are the thick bands of tissue that connect the muscles. “The area of the shoulder is one of [the] most complicated and delicate areas in the human body. Responsible for primarily protecting the structure and movement of the joint, the rotator cuff is engineered to make everyday movements seem easy and flawless,” explains Maglara.
- Induced pain when resting or at bedtime, especially if you are sleeping on the injured shoulder.
- Feeling of discomfort when lifting and lowering the arm on the injured side.
- Weakness when lifting or rotating your arm.
- A grating sound or sensation when moving your shoulder in certain positions.
Preventive measures can be taken by properly training and conditioning the shoulders, coupled with a good amount of rest. This is essential in securing the longevity of the structure.
5. Pelvic Fracture
The most obvious symptoms of a pelvic fracture is pain in the lower back, groin, and hip; abdominal pain; and numbness or tingling in the groin or legs, which tends to worsen when walking or moving the legs. These injuries often happen with a traumatic event like a car collision or a serious fall. As we age, if proper precautions aren’t taken, our bones become more brittle and less likely to sustain this type of impact. Due to the location of the pelvis, extensive bleeding can occur because of the proximity to major blood vessels and organs. If you have suffered any injuries to the pelvic area you should seek immediate attention by a physician.
The best types of exercises to strengthen the area are weight-bearing moves. Try adding squats, lunges, deadlifts, and hip raises to your routine in order to build strength. This will also help to protect the area from accidents and bone deterioration.
6. Shoulder Bursitis
As we get older, the collar bones start to degenerate and possibly deteriorate, making you more susceptible to shoulder injuries. Shoulder bursitis is one of the most common forms of shoulder pain. It’s the inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons, as well as the bursa cushioning in the shoulder. “Most people will not only experience pain, [but] there will be a decreased range of motion and lack of strength. Patients who come into my office with rotator cuff tears usually have difficulty opening the door; putting on a shirt, jacket, or bra; brushing their hair; or putting away dishes on the upper shelf,” reveals Dr. Jennifer Dour, D.C. founder of Garden State Spinal Care L.L.C.
Symptoms include pain with certain shoulder movements, discomfort in the evening that can deter a proper night’s rest, as well as shooting pains in the outer edge of the arm. The best thing to do is to take care of your shoulder before it affects your life too much. Simple things that you can start doing today range from improving your posture to scheduling a physical therapy visit.
If you cannot bear the pain, see a specialist immediately for treatment. Depending on the degree of injury, pain, and range of motion you may need an MRI scan of your shoulder to make a proper diagnosis.
7. Vertebral Fracture
Vertebral fracture occurs when the bones in the spine weaken and become brittle. This usually comes after osteoporosis has set in. “Some people have underlying comorbidities, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or cancer that will increase their likelihood of fracture. Another possible contribution is the long-term use of corticosteroids (a form of medication),” explains Dr. Dour.
Vertebral fractures are more common with post-menopausal women and seldom older men. Usually, there is a direct trauma to the area to cause the fracture, like a slip and fall when you land on your back. However, there are other circumstances that could cause this injury. Some signs include pain in the middle of your back, loss of height, and a hunched back. Dr. Dour says, “Most fractures are treated with a wait and watch approach to make sure it is healing on its own. Depending on the health of the individual, a fracture may not heal on its own, and a spine specialist will most likely perform a vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty to stabilize the fracture.”
8. Tennis Elbow
Never heard of it? Well, it’s pretty common with 200,000 cases reported every year. Tennis elbow is an irritation of the tissue that connects the forearm muscle to the elbow. This condition occurs when the tendons in your elbow become painful. The main cause of this injury is the repetitive motion of the tendons, which are under stress during the activity. “Over time, if the condition is not properly diagnosed or treated, surgical intervention may be necessary. Exercises to strengthen the area include wrist adduction and abduction, up and down wrist rolls, forearm fist grips, and hammer curls. Increased periods of rest are also highly recommended to speed up recovery and lessen future injuries,” says Maglara.
9. Lower Back Pain
This isn’t hard to detect, as pain occurs directly in the lower back and may also be evident in muscles and bones, hips, or legs. The lower back is in the lumbar region, which starts below the ribcage, and pain in this area can be brought on by heavy lifting or an injury. If you have been dealing with symptoms for more than three months, you are experiencing chronic pain. “Most of my over-50 clients come to me with lower back pain, generally, postural issues and weak core are to blame,” says Tatelbaum.
Signs of severe lower back pain can be scary and should not be ignored. If you are experiencing fever, loss of bowel or bladder control, pain in the groin, or weakness in the legs you should see a doctor immediately.
Treatments can range from anti-inflammatory OTC drugs to a heating pad. Protocol will depend on the seriousness of the pain. But, as Kara suggests, you can never go wrong with preventive measures, such as incorporating this staple stretching and yoga moves into your fitness regime.
Concussions are extremely common—there are more than three million reported cases per year. This is a brain injury caused by impact to the head or a violent shaking of the head and body. The 50-and-over set is more prone to this injury due tothe likelihood of a slip and fall. If you are suffering from a concussion it’s often easy to self-diagnose, symptoms can consist of:
- Lack of coordination
- Memory loss
- Ringing in the ears
- Excessive fatigue
There is no specific treatment for this other than rest and restriction of activities to allow the brain to rest. This includes reducing involvement in sports, socializing, and watching TV.
Let’s face it, we all fall or get injured regardless of our age, but it’s important to know what treatments are available that will allow you to live a fulfilled life.