A sore knee, hip pain, a stiff shoulder. Are they to be expected as we get older?
As we age, nagging joint pain becomes more common, and arthritis is to blame for most of those recurring aches and pains. Arthritis can best be described as an inflammation that affects one or multiple joints in the body. The Arthritis Foundation estimates about 54 million American adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. For this reason, it is considered the leading cause of disability among adults in the U.S.
Factors That Increase Risk for Joint Pain and Arthritis
Although a person’s life experiences over time can be contributors to the age factor for joint pain and arthritis, orthopedic surgeon Kwame Ennin, M.D., of Texas Center for Joint Replacement, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, and the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, says there are other risk factors.
Genetics/Family History. People born with specific genes, as may be common among family members, are more likely to develop certain types of arthritis. These genes can also make arthritis worse.
Traumatic Events. An injury, fall or fracture can exacerbate arthritis joint pain. Damage to a joint allows the joint and its surrounding connective tissues to break down, thus promoting degeneration of the joint.
Physical Activity. Very active people are prone to developing arthritis due to wear and tear on their joints, also known as osteoarthritis. “The more miles you put on your joints over your lifetime, the more likelihood you will develop arthritis,” according to Dr. Ennin.
Weight. Even though long-term physical activity can contribute to the development of arthritis, the consideration to exercise should be counterbalanced with knowledge that osteoarthritis is also associated with obesity. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to get knee osteoarthritis than people who are not overweight. Excess weight can also worsen knee osteoarthritis because extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees. For this reason, the overall cardiovascular and other health-related benefits of exercising to maintain a good weight often outweigh concerns of possible joint pain.
Occupation. What you do for a living can affect whether you will develop arthritis as well. Occupations that involve repetitive knee bending and squatting are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee. The overuse and repetitive stress can damage a joint and contribute to the development of arthritis in that joint.
What To Do about Painful Joints
All too often, we assume joint pain is a normal part of aging that we just have to learn to live with. But nothing could be further from the truth, says Dr. Ennin, who specializes in osteoarthritis care, reconstructive surgery, and hip and knee replacement. He points to a wealth of treatment options from exercise and alternative supplements to medications and joint replacement surgery.
“There are many different strategies I utilize to manage the symptoms of arthritis and joint pain,” he explains. “First, I must get at the source of my patient’s pain and the reason behind it. From here, I can assess the next steps to pain relief and improved quality of life.”
“Having joint pain doesn’t automatically mean you will need to have a joint replacement. There’s a lot to do before getting to the point of deciding to have something such as hip or knee surgery. Hip and knee replacement are reserved for when conservative means of managing the symptoms of arthritis no longer provide enough symptomatic relief.”
The conservative means Dr. Ennin refers to include activity modification and rest from a strenuous activity, anti-inflammatory medications, and joint injections to lubricate the affected joint. “Something as simple as getting a cane to offload the joint can make the pain less significant. There are ways you can still be active while minimizing stress and strain on the joints.”
So when should a person see an orthopedist for joint pain? “If the pain is persistent, see a doctor. A joint replacement specialist should be considered your arthritis doctor, or one in the team focused on your arthritis joint pain, even if you are trying to avoid surgery. We can evaluate your situation and take the time to implement non-operative measures first,” Dr. Ennin adds.