Pain – both chronic and acute – can affect you at any age, but it is certainly more likely to strike the older you get. The body, like a machine, suffers a significant amount of wear and tear over time, and every passing decade brings new potential aches and pains. However, with the right care and attention, it is possible to limit, prevent, and sometimes even cure pain and this is what we will be discussing this week.
There are three major factors which contribute to pain as you get older, but the biggest of these is undoubtedly arthritis. Arthritis occurs when the protective cartilage between your joint and your bone breaks down, often as a result of age-related changes. This can happen at any age, but is mostly likely to occur when you are in your 60s and 70s and is, in fact, the most common cause of pain in people over 65.
Aging also causes changes to your muscles and tendons. Tendons lose a considerable amount of their elasticity, making them more prone to injury, especially repeat motion injuries, whereas muscle fibers become less dense. This change in your muscles means you become less flexible, and more prone to soreness, even experiencing aches after normal everyday injuries like gardening.
The most common pains people suffer as they get older are caused by one of these three things. Arthritis can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as back and joint pain. Tendonitis from overuse and repetitive motion is exacerbated by the lack of elasticity in the tendons, and the change in muscle fibers means muscle pain becomes far more frequent.
But it is not all bad news, there are a number of ways to treat, and sometimes prevent, these pains -but a lot of it comes down to lifestyle. When it comes to preventing pain, the sooner you start the better. Simple things like eating a healthy diet, not smoking, not becoming overweight, and doing regular physical exercise will help shield you from a whole host of health issues, as well as lower the likelihood of pain as you get older. There are also a number of general pain relief measures which will help most lower level complaints. Massages, physical therapy, heating pads, and over-the-counter painkillers will help with a number of pain issues, but there are specific things you can do for the more enduring problems.
For muscle-related pains, strength training and cardiovascular exercise combined with stretching will help to build up muscles as well as increase flexibility. Stronger core muscles can help alleviate back pain by better supporting your spine, and staying supple can help prevent you pulling muscles. For repetitive motion complaints, such as tendonitis, many experts suggest RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
For arthritis, there is no sure-fire way to prevent it occurring, but there are measures you can take to reduce your risk of getting it and keep it at bay for as long as possible. Physical activity is key - it keeps blood circulating around the body which, in turn, helps to keep joints healthy. Also any exercises which strengthen the muscles around the joints will help take some pressure off the joint and the bone.
For long-standing pain caused by osteoarthritis in the knees there are also other steps you can take to alleviating pain long-term. Stem cell and Hyaluronic acid injections into the knee can help relieve pain from osteoarthritis for up to six months. These injections restore the cushioning and lubricating properties of the knee joint and are an excellent alternative to surgery. If you suffer from osteoarthritis and are interested in learning more, I will be giving a talk on Orthovisc knee joint injections later this month. For details on this – or any of the other issues covered in this piece – please do get in touch with any questions or to make an appointment.