Why Do I Ache More As I Get Older?
As you get older, it’s not unusual for your knees to pop or your legs to tingle or you hear yourself groan because of the pain you feel when you get up from a chair. This is a normal part of aging.
Medical experts say that by the time you are in your 60s and 70s, you should expect to hear more noises and feel more pain because the body changes as you get older.
“Our bones are less flexible, which means they’re more brittle,” Dr. Donald Ford, a family medicine doctor with the Cleveland Clinic, said in one of the clinic’s podcasts. “Our muscles become tighter. The tendons and ligaments, tend not to want to stretch as much. And let’s not forget the brain gets a little bit less flexible too. So, that’s where we have to be really careful and really work to try to maintain our flexibility.”
Medical experts point to arthritis and tendonitis as the main culprits for causing aches and pains, and inflammation is involved in both conditions.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, and “wear and tear” arthritis, is the most common form of arthritis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis involves inflammation of one or more joints. The inflammation causes joint pain and stiffness and usually worsens with age.
Tendonitis occurs when tendons, the tissue that connects the muscles to the bones, become inflamed. Tendonitis usually causes aches and pains in the elbows, knees, hips, and shoulders. Tendonitis happens because of repetitive motion performed in jobs, hobbies, sports (like basketball or golf), and other activities like shoveling snow.
In many cases, arthritis and tendonitis can occur at the same time. According to Dr. Stephanie Siegrist, an orthopedic surgery specialist in Rochester, NY, the ligaments and tendons that hold your joints together become “stiff and leathery,” and osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in a joint to wear away, both processes cause aches, soreness, and pain.
Since you cannot stop the aging process, Drs. Siegrist and Ford both suggest that the best way to “feel younger” and reduce aches and pains is to keep yourself as flexible as possible. Flexibility involves movement, whether it’s stretching or walking or a host of other activities. Health experts say movement decreases pain and stiffness as well as strengthens your muscles.
“The more you do that and the more consistently you do that, the fewer problems you’re going to have in terms of aches and pains as you get older,” Dr. Ford said.
How to Manage Aches and Pains
It’s going to take some work, but health experts say there are a variety of ways older adults can manage their aches and pains. According to the experts, it is important to do the following:
1. Stay physically active
If you have aches and pains, the last thing you want to do is move around. But, medical experts say physical activity, whether it’s walking, swimming, taking an exercise class, or even going up and down stairs, helps to relieve aches and pain.
According to Robert Fay, a licensed physical therapist, and owner of Armonk Physical Therapy and Sports Training in New York, physical activity is important because it keeps blood circulating, strengthens the muscles, takes the pressure off the joints and bones, and reduces pain.
If you experience consistent pain in any type of physical activity, use what’s called the RICE therapy:
- • Rest. Stop the activity that causes the pain.
- • Ice. Place an ice pack on the sore area.
- • Compression. Wrap the area in a bandage.
- • Elevation. Prop up the area that hurts, if it’s a leg or knee.
If pain continues, take an over-the-counter pain reliever or talk to your doctor about what type of activities to do that will not cause pain.
2. Manage your weight
Older adults typically become less active and burn fewer calories, and an inactive lifestyle can lead to weight gain. However, physical activity and a balanced diet will help to reduce calories as well as help you manage your weight.
Excess weight places additional stress on the joints, especially the knees, which can worsen pain. According to Dr. Kevin Fontaine, assistant professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University, being just 10 pounds overweight increases the pressure on your knees by 30 to 40 pounds with every step you take. The additional weight can worsen arthritis damage.
3. Talk to Your Doctor
Older adults may find physical activity difficult because of their pain. But, rather than giving in to the pain, health experts recommend talking to your doctor about choosing activities and exercises that would not be stressful on your joints and muscles.
Dr. Sonia Sehgal, an internist who specializes in geriatric medicine with the University of California, Irvine’s UCI Health, advises older adults experiencing sudden or severe pain, chest pains, nerve pain, fatigue, or breathing difficulties to get checked out as soon as possible.
People with osteoarthritis and severe arthritis should also check with their doctors before starting routine physical activity, such as an exercise class. Any activity that places stress on the knees and other joints can make arthritis worse, according to Dr. Kimberly Topp, professor, and chair of the department of physical therapy and rehabilitation services at the University of California, San Francisco. Nonetheless, Dr. Topp says there are still activities that even people with osteoarthritis can do, such as water aerobics, walking, and light resistance exercises.
This is why it’s important to look for doctors who “understand your viewpoint and will help you maintain a realistic level of physical activity,” says Dr. Siegrist, author of Know Your Bones: Making Sense of Arthritis Medicine.
What will also help is changing your viewpoint about the aches and pains that come along with aging. Dr. Siegrist says she encourages her patients not to think, “I’m getting older, I’m deteriorating.” Instead, she urges them to think “As I get older, I must invest more time and effort into maintaining my resilience.”