Our musculoskeletal system includes our bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and other structures that connect the body and help it move and navigate the world around us. As such, it is incredibly important to keep this system running smoothly for our health, wellness, and stability.
Unfortunately, with age, our bones and muscles deteriorate and may succumb to regular wear and tear. Additionally, as we grow older, we generally become more susceptible to injury and common diseases.
Musculoskeletal problems can affect any part of our body including:
In the UK musculoskeletal conditions affected 9.6 million (young and of working age) people in 2011 (Graham Stringer, 2011). In 2019, musculoskeletal conditions affected over 14.9 million people, many of whom have symptoms of pain, stiffness, limited movement, and disability affecting their quality of life and independence (HM Government, 2019). The more common of these conditions are:
- Osteoarthritis – the cartilage within the joints breaks down which can cause pain and reduced movement.
- Osteomalacia – bones become soft due to issues with metabolising Vitamin D.
- Osteoporosis – bones lose mass and become brittle and easier to break.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – inflammation of joints in one or more places in your body.
- Muscle weakness/pain – various conditions can affect how we carry our bodies, which then affects the proper functions of the associated muscles.
Age-related changes in the muscles
Similar to our blog about what happens to our hearts as they age, we are going to explore what happens to our muscles, joints and bones as we grow older.
Muscles decrease in size and strength as we get older and that can contribute to our feelings of tiredness and reduced ability to exercise. So, the changes that happen in our muscles are as follows (OrthoInfo, 2009):
- Muscle fibres reduce
- Muscle tissue is not replaced as rapidly as before, and lost muscle tissue is replaced with a tough fibrous tissue.
- Changes to the nervous system result in reduced tone and ability to contract.
Age-related changed in joints
Our bones do not touch on the joints, they are cushioned by cartilage, membranes, and a lubricating fluid all of which aid with smooth movement. As we grow older joint movement begins to become stiffer and less flexible because the cartilage becomes thinner and there is less fluid. The ligaments in the joints also tend to become shorter and lose their flexibility.
Many of these changes are due to a lack of exercise. Keeping the joints moving is essential to keep the fluids moving – inactivity causes shrinkage and reduction in mobility of your joints.
Age-related changes in bones
Bone may not grow more when you reach adulthood, but it is still a living tissue. As we grow older bones change in structure and we lose bone tissue. Lower bone mass means our bones are weaker, and therefore those who are older have increased risk of breaks or fractures.
There are several reasons why bones can become less dense as we age:
- Bone ‘wastage’ due to lack of exercise and movement
- Hormonal changes – in women the menopause can trigger a loss of minerals needed for strengthening bones; in men, the decline in sex hormones may lead to development of osteoporosis
- Bones naturally lose calcium and other vitamins over time
Minimising risk of musculoskeletal problems
It is important to pay attention to your body and note any changes as you age, and with 14.9 million people affected by musculoskeletal issues there is an increasing need to keep your body healthy and moving smoothly. But what exactly can you do to minimise your risk?
Exercise (Fogoros, 2021)
- Exercise strengthens your bones and helps slow down the rate of bone loss
- Muscle strengthening activities help improve their strength and increase muscle mass
- Exercises such as tai-chi or yoga help reduce risk of falls as they improve your sense of balance
- Physical activity throughout your life, but particularly later in life may help reduce risk of developing osteoporosis
- Weight training and walking are the best activities for maintenance of bone mass
- Exercising in water (low impact and not weight bearing) can also help with increase strength in bones and muscles
Prevention (Fenton, 2016)
- Warming up and stretching before repetitive, prolonged, or static activities.
- Take frequent breaks and stretch during then
- Stop activities or change position if something is causing you pain
- Use splints or joint supports when instructed by your doctor
Using your body correctly
- Use the largest joints and muscles to do the job needed
- Use two hands to carry objects, and lift heavy thins with your legs rather than bending down
- Slide, push or pull objects instead of lifting them if you can
- Carry objects close to your body at waist level
Maintaining good posture (Saint Luke’s, 2022)
- Try to keep a straight posture for your back with relaxed shoulders and neck. Minimise actions that require you to twist
- Avoid static positions for long periods of time, keep moving to increase blood circulation around your body
- Take breaks if you are working in front of a computer the whole day, stretch or get a standing desk, if possible, to stop yourself from sitting or hunching your back for long periods of time
Modify tasks and activities
- Change tasks frequently especially if they are repetitive
- Use tools that will make your activity easier – specialised tools, grips, carts, stools, arm rests, ladders
- Avoid tugging or pounding with the hand
- Use power tools when possible
- Make more trips, if necessary, when carrying heavy objects
Persistent musculoskeletal pain is highly prevalent among older adults, with rates from 40% to 60% (Dahlhammer et. al., 2018). With better attention to your body and the following factors you are very likely to reduce your risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders and also other common diseases such as coronary heart disease and some cancers such as breast cancer, colon cancer and more.
- Keeping a healthy lifestyle
- Regular exercise
- Proper posture
- Stop smoking and use of excessive alcohol use
- Early detection
According to Parliament.co.uk (2017) one third of all deaths in the UK are classed as premature, and 40% of premature mortality is caused by preventable cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Musculoskeletal disorders are also highly preventable and should be included in a health assessment.
There are various scans that can be used to look at bones, for example, the Computed Tomography Bone Mineral Density (CT BMD) and the CT EOS scans. They both look at your bones, but the CT BMD is used to look at the mineral composition of your bones to determine their strength (density) and the CT EOS is an upright x-ray scan of your whole body in a weight-bearing position. It allows to determine any issues with your spine, hips, posture and more.
At Echelon Health we understand that our clients are individuals and that health assessments should not be generalised. You all lead different lifestyles and have various hobbies. All these factors affect your body in different ways. As a result, we have created our flagship Platinum Assessment which looks at your body head-to-toe and leaves no stone unturned. The two scans mentioned above are part of our Platinum Assessment but may also be included in a completely bespoke package based on your concerns.
With a combination of the best imaging technology currently available, years of medical expertise and unparalleled customer service allows you to experience the best of preventive health. We are able to detect up to 92% and 95% of preventable causes of death among men and women and see tumours as small as 2mm.
Below you can see what tests and scans are included in our Platinum package and what they detect. We believe that only by using the right modality for the right area of the body you will be able to get the most accurate and detailed results.
|Medical Questionnaire & Pre-Assessment||Every Client completes a detailed Medical Questionnaire that ensures a full medical history is taken. This is reviewed by one of our doctors who may need to speak with you to establish more detailed information relating to your health and risk factors. It allows us to have a full image of your health and establish the best course of action to look at your health.|
|Blood Tests||Our blood tests check over 40 parameters to look at various cancer markers, hormone levels, cholesterol, vitamins and more to determine if any imbalances could indicate a certain illness or disease.|
|ECG||An Electrocardiogram (or ECG) is an important test that records the rhythm, rate, and electrical activity of your heart. It is completely painless and takes only a few minutes but helps find any irregularities that could indicate a heart issue.|
|CT Aorta||Our heart scan examines the beginning of the aorta for any evidence of dilation which could be the early signs of an aneurysm|
|CT Heart||CT Heart Scan (Calcium Score) examines your overall heart arteries for any calcium deposition – ‘furring up,’ which could be the earliest sign of atheromatous disease.|
|CT Coronary Angiogram||This determines the exact location and severity of any atheroma – the ‘furring up’ of the blood vessels. The CTCA is unique in its ability to visualise so-called ‘soft’ plaque which is the most vulnerable to rupturing and causing a heart attack).|
|CT Chest||With this scan, we are looking for evidence of tiny nodules which could be the early signs of lung cancer. We can detect cancers as small as 1-2mm.|
|CT Pelvis||Here, we are looking for any signs of abnormalities or tumours in your kidneys, bladder and lymph glands and reproductive organs.|
|CT Abdomen||Here, we are looking for any signs of abnormalities or tumours in your liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, adrenal glands and more.|
|CT Virtual Colonoscopy||This scan is looking for colonic polyps and early indications of cancer.|
|CT Bone Density||A CT Bone Density scan is an extremely accurate method of measuring the density of your bones and diagnosing osteoporosis and the risk of bone fracture in your hips and spine in the future.|
|EOS CT Upright Skeleton||This ultra-low-dose 3D CT scan of the entire skeleton in the standing position enables us to determine whether you have any postural issues or predisposition to spinal disc problems and lower back pain.|
|MRI Brain||This detailed scan of your brain looks for any indications of tumours or significant abnormalities, including of the sinuses and inner ears.|
|MRI Cerebral Artery Angiogram||This scan looks directly at the arteries in your brain to assess whether there has been any narrowing or malformations of them. Any indication of these issues would indicate an increased risk of stroke or a brain haemorrhage.|
|MRI Carotid Artery Angiogram||This determines whether there is any narrowing of the neck arteries that supply blood to the brain.|
|MRI Prostate (Men)||This, combined with the PSA blood test, is the most accurate means of screening for prostate cancer.|
|Ultrasound Thyroid||An ultrasound of the thyroid is looking for evidence of nodules or tumours.|
|Ultrasound Testes/ Ovaries||This scan is designed to look for any evidence of testicular/ovarian tumours or cysts that could indicate cancer risk.|
|Digital Mammogram (Women)||A digital mammogram is the most accurate means of visualising breast lumps or early signs of cancer.|
|Full Body Mole Screen||Skin cancer screening looks at moles that could be atypical which may be an indication of skin cancer. Single moles which may be of concern may be checked and recommended for removal. Skin cancer can be one of the most aggressive cancers if left undetected.|
|Final Consultation||Your scans/assessments are reported on by some of the leading specialist radiologists in their respective fields and then reviewed with you by a senior Echelon Health Doctor who will explain your results to you, and if needed provide a referral for treatment should anything untoward be found.|
Graham Stringer (2011). Musculoskeletal diseases. Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2011-07-04/debates/11070442000002/MusculoskeletalDiseases (accessed 14/06/2022
OrthoInfo (2009). Effects of aging. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/effects-of-aging/ (accessed 14/05/2022)
Parliament.co.uk (2017). Chapter 6: Public health, prevention, and patient responsibility. Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldnhssus/151/15109.htm (accessed 15/06/2022)
HM Government (2019). Musculoskeletal Health: A 5-year strategic framework for prevention across the life course. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/810348/Musculoskeletal_Health_5_year_strategy.pdf (accessed 15/06/2022)
Saint Luke’s (2022). Reducing risk of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs): posture. Available at: https://www.saintlukeskc.org/health-library/reducing-risk-musculoskeletal-disorders-msds-posture (accessed 16/06/2022)
Fogoros, N. R. (2021). The Health Benefits of Exercise. Available at: https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-benefits-of-exercise-1746000#:~:text=Musculoskeletal%20Benefits&text=Exercise%20increases%20the%20size%20and,blood%20to%20your%20skeletal%20muscles (accessed 16/06/2022)
Fenton, K. (2016). Preventing musculoskeletal disorders has wider impacts for public health. Available at: https://ukhsa.blog.gov.uk/2016/01/11/preventing-musculoskeletal-disorders-has-wider-impacts-for-public-health/ (accessed 16/06/2022)
Dahlhamer, J., Lucas, J., Zelaya, C., Nahin, R., Mackey, S., DeBar, L., Kerns, R., Von Korff, M., Porter, L. and Helmick, C., (2018). Prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain among adults—United States, 2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67(36), p.1