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Why Your Joints Ache After 50 — and What You Can Do About It
Stiff knees, achy hips and swollen hands? If you're 50 or over, it could be osteoarthritis — a common “wear-and-tear” disease that happens when the cushion-like tissue between the bones breaks down over time, leading to joint pain.
"As we age, the one thing we can't change is the amount of time we've had on our joints. So at 55, you have 55-year-old knees,” says a sports medicine physician and director of clinical transformation at Cleveland
More than 32.5 million U.S. adults have osteoarthritis, and most of them are older adults. While there's no way to cure or reverse the disorder, there are tried-and-true ways to prevent it or keep it from getting worse.
Here are five ways to take care of your joints after 50 through Medisys "Active joint care"
1. Stay physically active
It may sound counterintuitive to put more stress and strain on the body, but regular exercise is one of the best ways to treat osteoarthritis and preserve joint health.
One reason: Exercise strengthens the muscles around the joints, helping to take pressure off them. It can also improve the flow of nutrients to the cartilage, explains Eric Hume, M.D., associate professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery and director of quality and safety in the department of orthopaedic surgery at Penn Medicine.
"Motion is lotion. The more you move, the more you're likely to keep moving. The worst thing you can do with osteoarthritis after 50 is be sedentary.”
There's no blood supply to the cartilage, so it “doesn't get nutrition the normal way that all the other tissues in our body get it,” Hume says. Instead, the cartilage is dependent on “repetitive motion” to push knee joint fluid into the cartilage. This fluid is “filled up with sugar and other biochemicals that the cartilage needs,” Hume adds. “So the low-impact repetition of exercise actually has a protective effect on the knee.”
When it comes to choosing an exercise plan, there's no one-size-fits-all approach for adults 50 and older. But if you're already experiencing some joint pain, low-impact activities like biking, swimming and walking are likely going to be more comfortable than, say, running. Range-of-motion exercises such as yoga and tai chi are also helpful. A health care provider can help you pick an activity — or several — that best fits your needs and would best alleviate your symptoms.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Nearly 45 percent of U.S. adults ages 40 to 59 are obese, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. Extra weight, Hume explains, puts extra stress on the joints — especially weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips.
"If you have normal-sized tires in your knee” — tires being a metaphor Hume uses for the cushiony cartilage between the bones — “but you're carrying around twice the body weight that the knees are designed for, the wear obviously is going to become more severe more rapidly,” he says.
One study found that losing 1 pound of body weight reduces the load on the knees by 4 pounds. What's more, fat tissue produces proteins that can cause inflammation in and around your joints, which is another reason losing weight can help with joint discomfort.
3. Clean up your diet
Hand in hand with weight management is a healthy diet. Hume's focus is less on one food or nutrient; instead, he says, it's all about portion control, steering clear of empty calories and having “a nice balance of proteins.”
4. Stay hydrated
If you're dehydrated, your body will start siphoning water from other sources, including the cartilage, which is mostly water (about 80 percent). Drawing water out of the cartilage, however, lessens its lubrication, which can lead to joint pain. “We certainly know that keeping the cartilage well hydrated is one of the best ways to keep it healthy,”
Drinking plenty of water also helps flush inflammatory toxins out of the body and prevents injury to other areas that work in tandem with the joints. “Well-hydrated tendons, well-hydrated ligaments, well-hydrated muscles are less likely to get injured.
5. Manage your pain Through Medisys Active joint care
When joint pain strikes, you don't have to suffer through it. There are simple ways to alleviate the aches that accompany arthritis. First though, try to understand what brought on the pain.
"Was it because you tried something new? Was it because you pushed too hard?” If so, take a few days off and try again — just be sure to listen to your body
You may find that ice after exercise and a compression sleeve during is enough to keep joint pain at bay. If it persists, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen and naproxen) and pain relievers (acetaminophen) can help. Just be sure to talk to your pharmacist or health care provider about which one is best for you. Anti-inflammatories can increase bleeding risks in the gastrointestinal tract, and this risk increases with age; people with liver damage should avoid acetaminophen.
There are also topical pain relievers, which come with fewer side effects. The key is finding one that works best for you — once you do, “you're golden,” Hume says.
If your pain is more severe, your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid or viscosupplement injection. Partial or total joint-replacement surgery is a last resort and is typically reserved for people with extensive damage.
"Being patient is another goal” when it comes to taking care of your joints, “You may not be able to relive all of your glory years of when you were 20 and 30. But with the right preparation and a realistic expectation, the years that you have in front of you could be even better.”
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