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Why we suffer more injuries the older we get

As individuals advance in age, they often find themselves more susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries. The intricate interplay of various biological, physiological, and lifestyle factors contributes to this heightened vulnerability. So why does this happen?

Changes in Muscle Mass and Strength

Aging is associated with a gradual decline in muscle mass and strength, a phenomenon known as sarcopenia. Reduced muscle mass diminishes the ability to generate force and maintain stability during physical activities, increasing the risk of falls and injuries. A study published in the "Journal of Aging and Physical Activity" (2019) emphasised that preserving muscle mass through resistance training can mitigate the effects of sarcopenia and lower the risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

Decline in Bone Density and Strength

Bone health is a critical determinant of musculoskeletal injury risk. Osteoporosis, characterised by decreased bone density, makes bones more susceptible to fractures. A study conducted by Kanis et al. (2013) highlighted that bone mineral density decreases with age, especially in postmenopausal women. The combination of reduced bone density and increased fall risk amplifies the likelihood of fractures, particularly in weight-bearing joints.

Altered Joint Mechanics and Mobility

Aging is accompanied by changes in joint mechanics and mobility. Joint cartilage may deteriorate over time, leading to osteoarthritis, a condition characterised by joint pain and reduced range of motion. The "Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons" (2017) outlined how osteoarthritis-related changes in joint mechanics can disrupt normal movement patterns, predisposing older individuals to musculoskeletal injuries during everyday activities.

Reduced Tendon and Ligament Elasticity

Tendons and ligaments, crucial for stabilising joints and facilitating movement, also undergo age-related changes. Tendons become less elastic and more prone to microtears, while ligaments lose some of their tensile strength. This diminished structural integrity increases the risk of tendonitis, ligament sprains, and other soft tissue injuries. A study published in the "Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy" (2018) emphasised the importance of flexibility exercises to maintain tendon and ligament health.

Impaired Proprioception and Balance

Proprioception, the body's ability to sense its position in space, and balance are compromised as individuals age. Reduced proprioceptive acuity can lead to altered movement patterns and misjudgements during physical activities, increasing the risk of falls and related injuries. A study by Bressel et al. (2007) demonstrated that targeted balance training can enhance proprioception and mitigate the risk of falls, thereby reducing the likelihood of musculoskeletal injuries.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle factors also contribute to the age-related susceptibility to musculoskeletal injuries. Sedentary behaviour and inadequate physical activity can accelerate muscle atrophy, weaken bones, and impair overall functional capacity. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with a higher risk of falls and fractures. Conversely, a study in "Sports Medicine" (2016) highlighted the positive impact of regular exercise on reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injuries in older adults.

The increased vulnerability to musculoskeletal injuries as individuals age is a complex interplay of factors ranging from changes in muscle mass and bone density to altered joint mechanics, impaired proprioception, and lifestyle choices. Understanding these evidence-based mechanisms underscores the importance of proactive measures such as regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and fall prevention strategies to minimise the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and ensure a healthier and more active aging process.

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