Welcome to Club 40, where everything hurts. And it’s not just in your head — research shows that joint pain caused by arthritis and other age-related conditions are more likely to begin in your 40s.
So if you're starting to feel a bit less flexible than you used to, or even if you’re not, the time to start giving extra love to your joints is now. Making a diligent effort to protect and move your joints in your 40s can do a lot to help ward off exacerbated pain, stiffness, and maybe even joint replacement surgery down the road.
What happens to joints as you age
As we age, we tend to lose elasticity and strength in our tendons and ligaments, causing joint motion to become more restricted and less flexible. In fact, a flexibility study found that, once both men and women hit age 30-40, flexibility drops markedly and just keeps going downhill.
At the same time, the cartilage that acts as a cushion between the bones of the joints also begins to break down, leading to inflammation and one of the most common culprits for joint pain — arthritis.
Osteoarthritis affects 27 million Americans. It’s a degenerative disease that can develop genetically, but may also be more likely in people who are overweight or have put a lot of stress on their joints over the years. In some cases, the cartilage can completely disappear, causing the bones to scrape against each other during movement.
If your joint pain isn’t related to arthritis, the other likely cause is tendinitis. Aging causes your tendons to lose some elasticity, which can lead to not only stiffness and inflammation, but a higher risk of injury. And it is more common in adults over 40.
How can I protect my aging joints?
One of the best ways to keep your joints moving is to keep your joints moving. Stretching and exercising them every day is essential to fend off stiffness.
What you eat can also play a role in limiting joint pain. Cherries, citrus fruits, peppers and fatty fish are just a few of the foods that can help keep your joints healthy. Eating well can also help you maintain a healthy weight — another factor that can exacerbate pain.
If you exercise, be sure to stretch first in order to avoid injury. Consider low-impact activities, such as swimming or walking, that won’t be so hard on your joints, and drink lots of water.
Finally, avoid lifestyle habits that can put added pressure on your joints, such as wearing unsupportive shoes, repetitive motion or heavy lifting.
When should you see a doctor for joint pain?
It’s sometimes possible to treat you joint pain without surgery, either with OTC anti-inflammatory medications, the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) or by changing your exercise routine.
But if none of that helps, or you experience additional symptoms such as swelling, redness, tenderness or warmth around the joint, it may be time to see a doctor. And if you experience an injury that causes intense pain, sudden swelling, or loss of movement in the joint, see your doctor right away.
How Alexander Orthopaedic Associates can help
If you’re suffering from joint pain, our experts can help. We specialize in state-of-the-art orthopedic care that helps you get back to life, pain-free. Make an appointment today.