Don’t Let Joint Pain Slow You Down
You Can Still Live A Life In Motion
You’ve probably heard the classic joke:
The patient says, Doctor, it hurts when I do this. The doctor says, then don't do that!
Funny? Yes. Medically sound? Not so much.
If you have stiff, sore joints, the first thought in your head when you wake up in the morning is probably one of dread. Pain management can be challenging, and it can keep you from living your best life.
If climbing stairs and getting in and out of a car feels like a losing battle you’d rather not fight, you may have osteoarthritis. It’s the most common form of arthritis, and it’s also the most common cause of pain for people over age 65.
Even though it’s common, it doesn’t make it any less debilitating.
What causes joint pain
The joints in our knees, hips, ankles and toes are busy. They are in constant movement. When a joint starts to wear out, the cartilage (or cushioning) around the joint breaks down, causing bones to rub together.
The symptoms of joint pain
Osteoarthritis and other joint and muscle problems can cause:
- Constant or recurring pain or tenderness in the muscles, joints, ligaments, or tendons that can feel deep, penetrating or dull
- A crunchy feeling or sound of bone on bone
- Difficulty using or moving your joints after movement or activity
- Numbness, pain or tingling that radiates into the arms or legs
- Sleep issues
- Stiffness in the joints
- Swelling, warmth or redness
- Twitching muscles
The symptoms of joint pain can develop gradually, come and go or slowly fade throughout the day.
Even though your pain and discomfort might not seem permanent, it’s still important to talk about your joint pain with your primary care physician.
“When it comes to pain, it depends on what you are living with and what you can tolerate,” according to Nicole Meschbach, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with the Adena Orthopedic and Spine Institute. “If it’s slowing you down and keeping you from doing the things in life that make it enjoyable, there are treatment options available.”
Treatment for joint pain
Most minor joint aches and pain can be treated at home with rest, massage and stretching. Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can help with swelling and pain, but shouldn’t be used for extended periods. You can also use cold packs to numb the joints and reduce swelling, or heat packs to reduce inflammation.
Supplements can also be effective in the treatment of osteoarthritis. These can include glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, Vitamin D and S-adenosylmethionine.
For more severe discomfort, your doctor may recommend a walking aid, prescription medications (such as steroids) or physical therapy (PT). PT can help strengthen your muscles and help you move safely.
In extreme cases, joint replacement surgery is a good option if you are in constant pain. During the procedure, an orthopedic surgeon removes all or part of the damaged joint and replaces it with a metal or plastic joint (called a prosthesis). Over one million Americans have a hip or knee replacement procedure every year.
How to prevent joint pain
If you are experiencing light joint pain or want to avoid it altogether, there are a few things you can do to promote healthier joints:
- Exercise – Physical activity is one of the best things you can do to keep joints healthy. Building up your muscles can lower the stress on the joints, preserve their flexibility and help you maintain your balance. Exercise also promotes strong bones and offsets age-related bone loss.
- Lose weight - Weight is one of the biggest risk factors for joint pain. Every extra pound adds nearly four pounds of additional pressure on your knees and adds pressure to your hips. Fatty tissue can also cause inflammation, a key symptom of osteoarthritis.
- Eat healthier - Eating well can help you maintain a healthy weight and promote strong bones and muscles.
It's a common myth that you should not use or wear out a joint. Low-impact exercise won’t increase the development of osteoarthritis, plus it will help you maintain a wider range of motion, better muscle strength and a healthy weight.
The key is to get moving and stay moving. Low-impact exercises can include:
- Elliptical machines
- Kettle ball classes
- Recumbent cycling
- Rowing machines
Don’t just tough it out
If you’re in pain, your body is trying to tell you something. Usually it isn’t serious, but ignoring joint pain could lead to irreversible damage.
“If you exercise and something feels sore, give yourself a break afterwards, because your body always needs time to recover,” Dr. Meschbach said. “If you keep trying that same activity and you’re getting that same pain or soreness or discomfort, it would be worth getting checked out to make sure something bigger isn’t going on. It never hurts to just get an X-Ray. Then you have a visual picture of what’s going on that can give you some answers and some peace of mind.”