The body is an intricately strong and powerful thing, but even it can’t completely withstand the test of time. As you age, the things that helps you function—from the muscles that make you move to the bones that give you structure—start to slowly deteriorate, and these natural changes can lead to some pretty serious injuries.
From sometimes-fatal hip fractures to harrowing hamstring strains, here are the most common injuries in adults over 50. And if you’re looking to banish the perhaps most-common ailment among all ages, Here’s How to Conquer Lower Back Pain Forever.
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 “aged, worn tissue” that is “more prone to tears,” according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 300,000 individuals ages 65 and over are hospitalized for hip fractures yearly, most of which are caused by falls. Unfortunately, though, getting complications associated with hip fractures becomes more frequent with age, so it’s important for individuals over the age of 50 to protect themselves from this trauma to the best of their ability.
When Swedish researchers analyzed 1,313 injuries occurring in the elderly community over a one-year period, they found that almost half of those injuries were fractures, with the most common types being of the wrist and hip.
And what’s more, another study published in the journal BMC Geriatrics found that this common injury caused the majority of those inflicted to become dependent on another individual in order to perform basic functions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, rib fractures are amongst the most common bone breaks in older adults, caused by both traumatic events like falls and non-traumatic events like coughing or golfing. And not only are these injuries commonplace in the elderly community, but one study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery determined that people aged 65 and older are twice as likely as their younger counterparts to die from a rib fracture.
Because brain tissue shrinks as the body ages, people in their later years of life are more at risk for a chronic subdural hematoma (SDH), or a pooling of blood on the brain’s surface. This injury is typically the result of minor trauma, and, according to one study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, doctors often misdiagnose it as everything from a tumor to a subarachnoid hemorrhage. And for ways to keep your mind keen, Here Are Two Important Habits to Kick for the Sake of Your Brain.
Partially due to the prevalence of osteoporosis in older individuals, pelvis fractures are commonly seen in patients over the age of 50. This injury is so standard, in fact, that Finnish researchers have predicted that the number of osteoporotic pelvic fractures in the elderly population will triple by the year 2030.
Rotator Cuff Injury
“Older patients are much more likely to experience injury to the rotator cuff—the group of tendons, ligaments, and other structures that help give the shoulder its range of motion,” say orthopedic surgeon Anand Murthi, MD. When he and his colleagues analyzed data about shoulder injuries in the general population, they found that shoulder dislocations led to rotator cuff tears in anywhere from 35 percent to 86 percent of patients aged 60 and older.
When a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds out, this is known as an intracranial hemorrhage. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this type of bleeding can occur at any age, but it is most commonly seen in older adults due to things like head trauma and artery damage. And for more medical issues to be on the lookout for as you age, read up on the 20 Scariest Diseases You Can Catch in America’s Cities.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, happens when the head is hit severely enough to cause damage the brain. Though TBI can happen to anyone, one study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society determined that the injury causes more than 80,000 visits to the ER every year in the elderly demographic. And if you’re worried about your cerebral health, then try eating more of The 50 Best Foods for Your Brain.
“In older age, the pectorals in the chest area are stronger than the rotator cuffs because there’s so much leaning forward when we sit or do any activities in front of us such as driving and typing,” physical therapist Amy Devaney explained to Harvard Health Publishing. The problem is that when the pectorals are disproportionately strong, they pull the shoulders forward and can cause pain, tearing, and bursitis, a type of inflammation. Though these shoulder complications are common, Devaney noted that most of them can be relieved “without surgery,” so long as patients abide by a stringent stretching schedule.
Achilles Tendon Overuse
Doctors recommend staying active as you age to maintain optimal health, but too much physical activity can also have its downsides. According to one study out of the Medical College of Wisconsin, injuries to the achilles tendon are especially common in active older patients, and men over the age of 30 are “particularly vulnerable” in this area.
In particular, bursitis in the achilles tendon is commonly seen in patients starting in their late 40s, with symptoms like pain in the back of the heel and a limp while walking. And for some safe exercises that you can take to the gym, check out the 40 Best Fitness Moves When You’re Over 40.
According to data compiled by researchers from the University of Kansas School of Medicine, vertebral compression fractures of the spine are seen in about one in four postmenopausal women throughout the United States. And when analyzing women aged 80 and older, the commonness of this injury reaches an even higher 40 percent. Many vertebral fractures go undiagnosed for a long time because people will attribute their pain to the perils of aging—but seeing as this injury impacts everyday life, it’s important to see a doctor if you suspect that you might be suffering from one.
Not only are ankle fractures a common injury for adults over the age of 50, but they are also pose a more serious threat for this demographic. One study published in the journal EFORT Open Reviews found that amongst the elderly, ankle fractures are “challenging to treat and prone to complications,” thanks in part to simultaneous chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular complications.
Thanks to thinning knee cartilage and weakening bones, older adults often suffer patellar, or kneecap, fractures upon falling or suffering some other trauma. If the pieces of broken bone are still where they’re supposed to be, the fracture will heal with the minor assistance of a splint or cast—but if the bones have displaced, a patellar fracture will require surgery in order to properly heal.
According to health officials from the CDC, the number of Americans aged 75 and older visiting the hospital for brain injuries like concussions, cerebral contusions, and skull fractures rose 76 percent from 2007 to 2013. Based on their findings, these health officials recommended in their report that more attention be given to “preventing older adult falls,” since, as of right now, people more commonly associate head trauma with adolescents playing sports.
One of the most common injuries seen in active individuals over the age of 40 is tennis elbow. According to the team at Coastal Orthopedics, this injury, which occurs when the tendons in the outside of the elbow joint are overworked, can be caused by everything from using a computer mouse to playing tennis (hence, the name).
Most athletes and amateur runners have experienced a searing hamstring strain in the back of their thigh at least once in the middle of working out. But while this sports injury can happen to anyone, one study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that age is one of the non-modifiable risk factor for a hamstring strain. And to avoid having to deal with the pain of this injury, use The 5 Best Stretches That Will Warm You Up for Any Workout.
Though pretty much everyone has woken up with an unexplainable bruise at some point in their lifetime, this uncomfortable occurrence is especially common in the aged community. Skin thins as it ages, which means that as you get older, it becomes easier for the blood vessels just under the epidermis to break and cause bruising.
Though burns are one of the most common injuries worldwide, geriatric burns are much more common in developed countries than they are in developing countries, accounting for 20 percent of all burns in the former compared to just 5 percent in the latter. And not only do older individuals suffer more frequently from burns, but they are also more vulnerable to them, given their compromised mobility and slowing speed.
When Dutch scientists analyzed the data of more than 25,000 people with multiple injuries, they found that 47.8 percent of these polytrauma patients were aged 60 or older. According to their findings, common causes for multiple traumas in the elderly included bicycling accidents and falling, and the mortality rate due to polytrauma was twice as high in the older age group compared to those between the ages of 18 and 59.
Acute Kidney Injury
According to one study published in the journal American Society of Nephrology, acute kidney injury, or AKI, is a type of kidney damage commonly encountered in older individuals. In fact, because older folks have a decreasing renal reserve (which would normally be called upon when the organ is damaged), patients aged 60 and older are three to eight times more likely to develop AKI.
Hamstring strains aren’t the only injury that older runners have to worry about. When Swedish researchers studied injuries among more than 5,000 professional athletes, they found that, the older a player was, the more likely he or she was to suffer from a calf strain.
Cervical Disc Injury
A cervical disc injury, which occurs when the inner core of a disc in your neck leaks out and puts pressure on a nearby nerve root, is a common injury amongst people over the age of 40. Typically the cause of the injury is unidentifiable, and according to Mark J. Spoonamore, M.D., of the USC Spine Center, older individuals who are active or perform heavy labor are just as likely to get a disc injury as their inactive, elderly counterparts.
More commonly known as frozen shoulder, this injury causes stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint and is often occurs in people who have been unable to move their arm for a long period of time. According to the Mayo Clinic, this condition is most commonly seen in people over the age of 40, especially in women.
Hip Labral Tear
Hip labral tears affect the rubbery tissue that attaches the ball and socket of the hip. According to hip, knee, and shoulder surgeon Robert Howells, this injury is frequently seen in the older population as a result of a less elastic and thusly more vulnerable labrum. And for more important medical information, don’t miss the 20 Ways a Sunburn Harms Your Overall Health.
Gluteus Medius Tear
Also due to decreased elasticity in the hip, older individuals are more prone to gluteus medius tears. The gluteus medius, a hip muscle, controls movements away from the body—like leg extensions and kicks—and so an untreated tear can cause chronic, excruciating pain.
Hip subluxation, or dislocation of the hip, is seen most regularly in older patients, according to health platform Ada Health. People who have previously had a hip replacement are most at risk of this hip injury, but other common causes include pelvic injuries, car accidents, and high-impact sports accidents.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, clavical, or collarbone, fractures make up approximately 5 percent of all adult fractures. Normally these injuries will heal if the patient wears a sling and allows the shoulder to stay still, but occasionally there will be cases that require surgery.
When elderly individuals fall, one of the common injuries that they face is a finger fracture. However, unlike a hip or rib fracture, this injury heals relatively quickly and easily, and for most patients the prognosis is a full recovery.
Many people over the age of 50 think that they can’t possibly get skin cancer because they’ve already gone as long as they have without it, but the reality is that older individuals are actually more likely to get sunburned and subsequently develop skin diseases. “As we age, our skin undergoes changes that weaken our defenses against skin disease,” explains Robert A. Norman, M.D., of the Skin Cancer Foundation. And to protect yourself from sunburns and their damaging effects, check out the 15 Hacks to Apply Your Sunscreen More Easily.
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