Joint Health in Old Age

By on January 29, 2019
Joint Pain

Our bones tend to get weak and our joints begin to damage as we age. While degenerative changes are a part of natural aging, there are many steps we can take as we grow older to ensure wellness of the musculoskeletal system and joint health.

One of the most common changes that occur in the joints as we get older is the deterioration of the cartilage lining from the normal wear and tear. This then renders to exposed articular surfaces of the bone to rub against each other and cause bone degeneration as well. This condition is called Osteoarthritis (OA), which can be very painful and is associated with stiff joints and limited mobility. OA is by far the most common type of joint problem in old age, and typically affects knees, hips, hands, spine, etc.

OA affects about 27 million Americans and over half of Americans over the age of 65 have been diagnosed with arthritis. It is slightly more common in women. OA is diagnosed clinically with the help of some imaging tests. A detailed history and a thorough exam reveals the extent and severity of the disease. Blood tests are usually not helpful in making a diagnosis. But in some cases, joint aspiration may be considered to exclude other types of arthritic conditions. The mainstay of diagnostic work-up of OA is plain film radiography. X-rays can show damage and other changes related to osteoarthritis to confirm the diagnosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is often not needed, unless better images of cartilage and related soft tissue is desired.

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OA does not have a definitive cure. Non-drug options include land-based or water exercises, physiotherapy, weight loss, psycho-social therapy, hot and cold packs, or alternative methods, such as Tai chi, acupuncture or trans-cutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Other options include over-the-counter analgesics/anti-inflammatory drugs like Acetaminophen, NSAIDs or cortico steroid joint injections.

There are many measures we can take to have and continue to have good bone and joint health as we age beyond 50. 

  1. Quit smoking: Smoking and tobacco use can adversely affect your musculoskeletal health. Smoking increases inflammation throughout the body, and can worsen arthritis as well. It can hamper the healing process and prolong the symptoms. It is not easy to quit smoking, and people need professional help in doing so and following through with it. But even cutting down helps, and quitting can improve body’s healing and immune system within a few weeks.
  2. Stay well-hydrated: It has been shown that staying well-hydrated positively affects joint health. Good hydration habits lead to improved joint lubrication and reduced cartilaginous degeneration.
  3. Lose weight and keep fit: Being overweight exerts an excessive force on your joints, which exceeds what they are supposed to sustain. Therefore, it is very important to have a balanced diet, have a regular exercise regimen that you can stick to long-term, and make sure your weight is in the normal range. One can seek professional help of dietitians, instructors/trainers, and doctors if there is a need. There are various exercises that are good for joint/bone health, including bicycling, Pilates, swimming, walking, yoga, etc. Getting help from physiotherapist may also be a good idea in some cases.
  4. Pay attention to body’s symptoms: When joint health deteriorates, it elicits symptoms. Joint pain occurring after exercise is a telltale sign. This is not the same joint aches that temporarily occur after exercise. This kind of joint pain that lasts and feels stronger and deeper. This could be an early sign of OA and should not be ignored.

If you have indeed had these symptoms of joint pain, limited mobility and joint stiffness, it is important that you consult a physician. Internal medicine physicians at Pacific Medical Care Center specialize in all types of medical conditions affecting adults and elderly, including OA. You can find the right advice and care best suited to your individual needs and condition by experienced physicians and ancillary staff so that you have the best chance at avoiding getting OA or managing it in an optimal way.


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Joint Health in Old Age