Congratulations! You’re approaching—or are already in—your golden years. There are many perks to this stage of life: grandchildren, wisdom as a result of decades of life experiences, a more mature relationship with the kids, increased time for favorite pastimes, and a generally optimistic outlook. However, things aren’t all rosy. Health issues are more prevalent than ever and can be damaging to quality of life.
People over age 50 lose muscle and bone density. As a result, your workout sessions are more tiring, and there is an increased risk of fractures. You may find that your senses of taste and smell aren’t as sharp as they used to be. (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: many seniors enjoy spicy foods that were once too hot for them.) While most brain functions do not change as people age, the ability to form new memories, remember words and names of things and people, quickly do math in your head, and speedily perform cognitive activities lessens. Your ability to hear is diminished, and hearing aids may be what the doctor ordered. On a trip to the grocery store or to a favorite vacation spot, you might find yourself scouting out the nearest bathrooms. (That pesky urge is often worse during the night.) Speaking of night, sleep habits change. Insomnia occurs with greater frequency; over 40% of seniors find it difficult to fall asleep several nights or more every week. Aches and pains are increasingly a fact of life. If you’re like many golden agers, you might put joint discomfort down to a natural part of growing older.
Joint pain is one of the most common and most chronic of health issues that people in their golden years face.
Joint Pain: the Facts
Such discomfort and aging do not go hand in hand. What’s more, there are so many options for treating and managing joint pain, living with it is unnecessary. Seniors can expect to live into their eighties and beyond, so there is no reason to spend these golden years with the diminished quality of life and disability that chronic pain brings. An important first step is getting to the root cause of joint pain, and that entails a visit to the doctor. Since many people may not be able to pinpoint the location of the problem (tendon, joint, or the area surrounding them), a medical examination is necessary. A case in point: what you call arthritis (a word meaning joint inflammation) may be one of more than 100 kinds of the disorder. And there are other culprits behind joint pain, including:
- bursitis (inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac in certain joints)
- an underactive thyroid
- tendinitis (an inflamed tendon)
- bone infection
- lupus (an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and fatigue and may involve various organs)
- ankylosing spondylitis (a kind of arthritis usually affecting the spine, and, less commonly, other joints)
- lyme disease
- osteoarthritis (a disorder resulting in joint breakdown)
- a fracture
Once the physician reaches a diagnosis following a physical examination and appropriate tests (including X-rays, blood work, and MRIs), he or she will work out a treatment plan. This may include physical therapy, pain medication, and home remedies like ice or heat.
Questions and Answers:
Here are some frequently-asked questions about joint pain affecting seniors.
Q: Is joint pain a sign of something serious?
A: Most joint pain does not mean a person has a serious condition. However, even minor causes of discomfort should be addressed, since aching joints affect your quality of life, the ability to take part in activities you enjoy, job performance, and your emotional well-being.
Q: Why is seeing a physical therapist important? Can’t I exercise on my own?
A: A physical therapist can design a program of exercises that works for you. He or she can help you increase mobility and strength and provide “extras” like massage and heat and/or ice therapy.
Q: Is bed rest good for joint pain?
A: If you’ve been injured or are beginning to experience discomfort, some rest (with the affected joint elevated if there is swelling) is beneficial. However, being inactive for too long can lead to muscle weakness and actually increase recovery time.
Q: What can people do at home to relieve joint pain?
A: Over-the-counter pain remedies may relieve discomfort. If they are not effective, a doctor can prescribe medication. Ice and heat (up to 20 minutes at a time) often provide relief. Use whichever one works for you. Also, do your physical therapy exercises at home. Additional tips: losing weight and not smoking are important for your joints and your general health.
Q: Is joint pain ever considered an emergency?
A: If you have fallen or been hurt while being active, severe pain, swelling, a deformed or misshapen joint, and inability to move or put weight on the injured area are reasons to get immediate medical care.
Q: What kinds of shoes should I wear?
A: Soft shoes that cushion the feet and have an additional layer of padding are ideal. If you have specific joint or foot problems, an orthopedist, podiatrist, or athletic shoe store can recommend appropriate footwear.
The articles on this website should not be used to start the use of dietary supplements or vitamins, natural or herbal products, homeopathic medicine or other mentioned products prior to a proper consultation with a doctor or certified health provider.