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Is pain an inevitable part of aging?

As we get older, we may find that we are unable to move as freely as we did when we were younger. We may also experience aches and pains that may limit our movement and even reduce our activity in order to avoid further pain. However, in some instances, activity is required to prevent further degeneration of the body and slow the development of the conditions.

We explore some of the common age related pains, and what we can do to prevent and treat them.

 

Osteoarthritis

What it feels like: Early symptoms may present itself as discomfort when using your joints or when you wake up in the morning. As it worsens, you may experience a loss of flexibility in the affected joints. Onset of pain can occur even when resting. While osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, it commonly affects the ankles, knees, and hips.

How it happens: As you age, the protective cartilage between joints and bones break down faster than the body can repair.

What you can do about it:

  • Eat well: Take foods that are high in healthy fats for joint health, e.g. salmon, avocados, almonds, peanut butter.
  • Daily vitamins: Vitamin C & D is associated with less cartilage degeneration. If you are unable to get sufficient Vitamin C & D naturally, consider taking a supplement.
  • Stay Active: Light exercise helps blood circulation which can keep your joints healthy and reduce pain. It also aids in maintaining a healthy weight so as to reduce the stress and wear on your joints and cartilages.

 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

What it feels like: Painful swelling of your joints, typically affecting the small joints such as wrist, ankles, hands, and feet. Over time, it can cause joints to deform resulting in difficulty in performing daily tasks like gripping cutlery or buttoning a shirt. Rheumatoid arthritis may also affect other organs such as skin, lungs, heart, etc.

How it happens: It occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your joints. This inflammation thickens the lining of membranes that surround your joints and may eventually erode the cartilage and bone. Doctors do not know what starts this process.

What you can do about it:

  • Seek treatment early: While there is currently no cure, early intervention can prevent permanent damage. You may also be prescribed medication to relieve the pain and slow down the joint damage to improve the quality of your life.
  • Physiotherapy: Under a doctor’s recommendation, physiotherapy can help keep your joints flexible and strengthen muscles required to continue with daily tasks.
  • Surgery: It may help to restore the use of affected joints.

 

Spinal Stenosis

What it feels like: Weakness or numbness in a hand or leg, cramping in one or both legs when you stand for long periods of time or when you walk. Pain may not necessarily be present, but if so, usually in the neck or lower back.

Why it happens: Spinal stenosis, occurs when the spinal canal narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord. As we age, wear and tear damage on spinal bones can cause formation of bone spurs which can grow into the spinal canal thus narrowing the spinal canal. Another common cause could be due to a herniated disk, when our disks between our vertebrae dries out with age and crack, leading the soft material to escape and press on the spinal cord.

What you can do about it:

  • Early diagnosis: This helps to find out the cause and severity of it so that appropriate treatment such as physical therapy to maintain the flexibility of your spine, medication, injections, or surgery can be recommended.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Pain is reduced when you are lighter because there is less stress on the back.

 

Do not put off seeing a doctor or a healthcare professional if you feel something is amiss. Early diagnosis and treatment can lead to a high rate of recovery and cause minimal disruption to your quality of life.

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