Aching joints experienced by senior citizens is all part of the aging process. As you age, your cartilage, the spongy material that protects the ends of your bones, begins to dry out and stiffen. Your body also makes less synovial fluid, the stuff that acts like oil to keep your joints moving smoothly. The result: Your joints may not move as freely as they used to. Keep moving and exercising because synovial fluid requires movement to keep your joints loose.
Aching Joints: Osteoarthritis (OA)
A joint is the place where two bones meet. The end of each bone is covered in a layer of rubbery stuff called cartilage. This keeps them from rubbing together. But cartilage can wear away over time or after an injury. When it’s gone, the bones hit one another, and sometimes, tiny pieces break off. The result is a stiff, swollen, painful joint.
Over-the-counter drugs can help with the pain and swelling. If they don’t, injections directly into the affected area(s) may be prescribed. Some people need surgery, but it’s rare.
Aching Joints: Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
The immune system defends from outside germs. Although, sometimes, it attacks the lining of the joints instead. RA is most likely to affect the wrist or finger joints, but it can also show up anywhere in your body. It often causes constant pain and stiffness. Other times, it will only periodically flare up.
Doctors treat RA with medications that slow or stop the disease process. These drugs are called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, (DMARDS). In addition, proper nutrition, periodic rest, and an exercise schedule are very helpful in controlling this condition.
Aching Joints: Other Arthritis Types
OA and RA are the most well known, but other types also affect your immune system and result in stiff joints, especially as you get older:
- Ankylosing spondylitis: This type mostly affects your spine, but it can make your hips, hands, or feet feel stiff.
- Gout: The first sign of this build-up of uric acid in your body is often a searing pain in your big toe.
- Infectious arthritis: It often starts with an infection somewhere else in your body that travels to one big joint, like your hip. Your doctor might call it septic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis: People with psoriasis or family members who have it are most likely to get this type. Signs include swollen fingers and pitted nails.
Aching Joints: Weather Changes
Doctors aren’t sure why, but joint pain seems to get worse when the weather changes. It’s most common when the air pressure (barometric pressure) falls. That typically happens just before a storm.
Aching Joints: Fibromyalgia
This chronic condition causes joint and muscle pain, along with sleep, mood, and memory problems. Scientists think your brain takes normal pain signals and makes them worse. They aren’t sure what causes it, but it often follows an illness, surgery, or intense stress. The difference is, it doesn’t damage your joints the way arthritis does.
There’s no cure, but over-the-counter meds should ease the pain. In addition, a physical therapist can teach special exercises that will help. Deep breathing or gentle exercises like yoga or tai chi have been found helpful. They help to stretch and strengthen muscles and tendons.
Aching Joints: Exercise Is Important
The more joints are moved, the less likely they are to get stiff. For senior citizens, mild afternoon gardening or a walk around the block can help. It strengthens the muscles that support joints, keep bones strong, improve balance, and burn calories. Start slow, and gradually build up duration.
Aching Joints: Heat Therapy
If joints are extra stiff in the morning, a hot shower or bath can loosen them up. It also gets blood flowing to the area, which can remove the stiffness. A moist heat pad wrapped in a towel and left on the affected areas for 15-20 minutes can be very helpful.
Aching Joints: Cold Therapy
Icing down an achy joint works. It narrows blood vessels, which slows blood flow to the area and eases swelling. A cold pack applied to the area for 15-20 minutes can help.
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