Getting older, as has been noted by many pundits, is not always fun, but it certainly beats the alternative. For those 50 years old and better, the most challenging part of aging comes from the increase in aches and pains in the body. While these pains can originate from many areas, most aches of seniors come from their joints.
According to “Senior Advice,” a website focused on the health of older people, “Joint pain can be particularly frustrating because it can impact your ability to move and enjoy life in the way you want to. Many people find their quality of life decreases significantly when they have to deal with constant joint pain.
“Even if you aren’t a particularly active individual, joint pain can make walking, sitting, standing and even the simplest of movements painful and challenging. Plus, joint pain may be a sign of serious poor joint health, which can lead to even more significant health concerns, such as a loss of mobility and range of motion, increased fall risk, decreased flexibility, strains, sprains and dislocations.”
Decades of wear and tear on one’s joints will often lead to pain, injury and even the need for replacement. However, there are actions that can be taken to soften the blow on aging joints.
Three Tips for Better Joint Health
As an orthopedic joint replacement surgeon, Dr. Karim Elsharkawy, whose practice is in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and is a member of the referral line of Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic Center, sees many patients who are experiencing joint pain, some of whom might be candidates for joint replacement surgery. He offered this advice for maintaining healthy, pain-free joints.
#1 Moderate exercise is critical
While many seniors equate exercise with pain (thanks to popular expressions like “no pain, no gain”), joint experts say that low-impact exercise is one of the best things a person can do to avoid this pain.
“Jogging and other high-impact exercises can help reduce weight,” Dr. Elsharkawy said. “But they are really hard on joints and can lead to injury. The best approach is to use low-impact exercises. These include elliptical machines, stationary bikes, yoga, pilates, stretching, walking and anything in the water. Swimming, water aerobics or even walking laps in a pool can all be great ways to get the joints moving without any pressure from outside forces.
“Recent research has shown that this low-impact exercise is a good strategy for avoiding or decreasing joint pain, even among patients who might be seen as frail,” Dr. Elsharkawy said. “In an article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine it was reported that a structured, moderate-intensity exercise program may offer mobility benefits for older patients regardless of frailty status, according to a secondary analysis of the “LIFE” (Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders) trial. This study further noted the importance of ‘frail’ seniors in structured exercise due to the potential for physical improvement.”
Dr. Elsharkawy also noted a cognitive benefit of a structured exercise program for seniors. “The American Academy of Neurology (AAN), noted that while there is no ‘high-quality evidence’ that supports the treatment of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) using medications, regular exercise training may improve cognitive measures. The risk of developing MCI, a medical condition associated with problems with memory and thinking, rises with age. It has been recognized for several years that MCI often precedes dementia, though not everyone who has MCI develops dementia.”
#2 Maintaining a healthy weight can also help avoid joint pain
People of every age are rightfully concerned about carrying excess weight. For seniors, this is even more important because aging joints are less able to carry the body’s weight.
“It is estimated that each pound adds a factor of four to the pressure on joints,” Dr. Elsharkawy said. “So, if you are 25 pounds overweight, that is a force of 100 pounds on the hip and knee joints. This can cause joints to deteriorate faster than they would in a slimmer person, and this pressure can cause pain in those over-worked joints.
“Lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy diet are some of the most difficult tasks for anyone to undertake. However, this is very important for seniors in order to avoid joint pain and injury.
“A diet based on healthy foods, such as those with fatty acids, Omega-3s and vitamin D, is an important consideration. These nutrients can come from foods like salmon, avocados, cod, flax seeds, coconut oil and others. Nuts are also an important food to improve joint health as they can really combat the inflammation that typically causes joint pain. Some great nuts to try are almonds and walnuts.
“Some seniors prefer to take supplements. Vitamin C or pepper cream can reduce inflammation. Avocado and soy supplements can also help ease joint inflammation. Vitamin D and calcium can prevent such conditions as osteoporosis, a dangerous bone condition that can lead to accidental fractures.”
#3 Good posture can help alleviate joint pain
After a lifetime of lifting children, hunching over a computer screen or manual labor, it is very common for seniors to develop bad posture. Unfortunately, this can wreak havoc on joints and cause unnecessary pain in the neck and spine.
“Poor posture is really an insidious cause for joint and back pain,” said Dr. Elsharkawy . “In many cases, this improper posture has been gradually getting worse over decades, and, by the time a person reaches 60 years or older, it is very difficult to overcome this physical habit. However, if joint pain is to be avoided, correct posture is absolutely critical.
“Increasing the strength of one’s core – the abs, back and surrounding muscles – is a good place to start. Strong core muscles can help improve posture and this can reduce the pressure on the joints. A great core exercise is a yoga position called planking. The Silver Sneakers organization has other senior-specific exercises to improve core strength and reduce joint pain.”
If you are a senior and experiencing constant joint pain, contact us at the Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic Center referral line to set an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon that is a member of the referral line.
Physicians who are members of the referral program practice independently and are not employees or agents of THSOC.