People of all ages can — and do — fall. But older adults are especially likely experience slips and falls, which often results in bone fractures and other serious injuries. There are numerous reason seniors are at risk, including poor eyesight that makes it harder to spot tripping hazards, conditions like hypertension and diabetes that can affect balance, and medications that cause dizziness or sleepiness as side effects.
Now a new study highlights an additional possible risk factor: having knee osteoarthritis (OA) coupled with low back pain.
Knee OA in and of itself may increase the chances of falling, as instability and pain in this joint (often combined with lack of strength in the surrounding muscles) can be problematic. But a new Japanese study, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, found that adding low back pain to the equation makes matters even worse.
The study was a survey of 189 people between the ages of 61-90 with knee OA. The researchers found that participants who also had low back pain were 2.7 times more likely to have experienced recurrent falls within the previous year. Those who reported moderate-to-severe low back pain were at even greater risk (3.7 times higher odds).
The authors were surprised that low back pain “significantly increased the probability of falls regardless of knee pain severity.”
Low back pain “in people with knee OA is associated with a greater degree of disability,” they wrote. “This study expands on this by showing that people with coexisting knee OA and [low back pain] have an increased risk of falls and disability.”
They also noted that chronic pain may be an important factor, as it may interfere with cognitive processes that might otherwise enable someone to react quickly and maneuver themselves in order to prevent a fall.
Not Sure What’s Causing Your Pain?
Check out PainSpot, our pain locator tool. Answer a few simple questions about what hurts and discover possible conditions that could be causing it. Start your PainSpot quiz.
Iijima H, et al. Low Back pain as a Risk Factor for Recurrent Falls in People with Knee Osteoarthritis. Arthritis Care & Research. January 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/acr.24136.
Prevent Falls and Fractures. National Institute on Aging. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/prevent-falls-and-fractures.