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September 6, 2011 > Aches and Pains Are Not Normal Part of Growing Old

Aches and Pains Are Not Normal Part of Growing Old

Washington Hospital Rheumatologist Offers Tips for Healthy Aging

Do you suffer from aches and pains? If you think it's just a normal part of aging, think again. While our body does experience some wear and tear as we grow older, back pain, stiff joints, and other body aches are not something to dismiss as a typical sign of aging.

"A lot of older adults think they should have joint pain because they are getting older," said Dr. Barry Shibuya, a local rheumatologist and member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. "But joint pain is a sign of arthritis, which is definitely not a normal part of aging. If you don't get it treated, arthritis can seriously diminish your quality of life."

September is Healthy Aging Month, a good time to think about the steps you can take to prevent illness and stay healthy as you age. Consulting a doctor if you are experiencing pain is an important part of taking good care of yourself, according to Shibuya.

Arthritis means inflammation of a joint and there are more than 100 different types. Shibuya said the most common is osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear on the cartilage and joints. Cartilage cushions your bones at the joints and when it breaks down and wears away, the bones rube together, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.


Morning Stiffness

"Many people just accept that they should feel stiff when they first wake up, but that could be a sign of a type of arthritis called polymyalgia rheumatic," Shibuya said. "It is not normal for your neck and shoulders to be stiff and hurt every morning, and that's a very common symptom."

Polymyalgia rheumatic (PMR) is an inflammatory disorder and symptoms also include fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever. While there is no test for the disease, Shibuya said inflammation in the body can be measured with a blood test, which helps doctors make the diagnosis.

"PMR may occur alone or with giant cell arteritis, which can have the same symptoms but much worse consequences," he added. "Giant cell arteritis frequently involves inflammation of the blood vessels in the eyes, which can result in blindness. So this is not something to be ignored."

Shibuya said another common issue as we grow older is osteoporosis, which occurs when the body does not form new bone, causing the bones to become thin. He said it is more common in women.

"There is no pain associated with osteoporosis unless you break a bone," he said. "With osteoporosis, bones can break easily."

People who take prednisone are at much higher risk for osteoporosis, Shibuya added. Prednisone is commonly prescribed to people with arthritis, asthma, and other inflammatory diseases.


Treatment and Prevention

"While arthritis is common in people over age 60, it is not something you should just ignore," he said. "You need to get a proper diagnosis and a treatment plan so that you can manage the disease and slow the progression."

As arthritis progresses, it can affect your ability to move, making ordinary tasks like getting dressed or washing dishes difficult. This decreased mobility and function can significantly impact your quality of life, leading to a feeling of isolation and depression, Shibuya said.

The best way to maintain your mobility and independence as you age is to take good care of yourself, he added. That means consulting with your physician, properly managing chronic diseases like arthritis, and taking steps to prevent illness.

Shibuya said eating right and getting plenty of exercise are critical for healthy aging. A diet high in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains will help you get the nutrients you need. Exercise helps muscles and joints stay strong and flexible.

"A good diet and exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is so important," Shibuya said. "Obesity contributes to a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes and arthritis. The extra weight puts a lot of pressure on your knees, hips and other joints."

To learn about programs and services at Washington Hospital that can help you stay healthy as you age, visit www.whhs.com.

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