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Tips to Ease Elderly Joint Aches (Hip, Back, Knee, Ankle)

Tips to Ease Elderly Joint AchesJoint pain and stiffness are among the common complaints associated with aging. Most of these cases are due to a gradual erosion of the joint surfaces that occurs with wear and tear. It eventually reaches the point where the degeneration is severe enough to compromise the joint structure and surrounding bone. This condition is known as osteoarthritis and is most common in the elderly. The word arthritis is a broad term used to describe any type of joint inflammation. However, the most common type of arthritis – osteoarthritis – is actually not an inflammatory disease. It is instead a degenerative disease of the joint. There are several ways to ease any additional strain on the joint and thereby ease the aches and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis (OA).

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body but is most prominent in the weight bearing joints. These are the joints that have to transmit the force of the body weight – the joints of the back, hip, knee and ankle. Osteoarthritis is not the same as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) which is also a common joint disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory joint disease caused by the body’s immune system attacking the joint tissue. It also presents with joint pain and stiffness but swelling, nodules and joint deformity are also common symptoms in RA, but not usually in osteoarthritis.

Treating and Preventing Joint Aches

Medication is not the only therapeutic option for treating joint aches. Conservative measures on the part of the patient can go a long way in easing and preventing pains and stiffness.

Lose weight to ease pressure on the joints

The greater the body weight, the greater the pressure on the joints. Weight control is a matter of diet and exercise and it is best supervised by professionals,  like a dietitian and fitness trainer, in conjunction with a doctor. The elderly should avoid fad slimming products and starvation dieting – it complicate the management of chronic diseases and have severe repercussions on one’s health.

Stretching to improve joint mobility

Stretching exercises help reduce muscle stiffness and improve joint flexibility. A physical therapist specializing in geriatric medicine can properly advise an elderly patient on the most appropriate movements. Stretching should not only be done before exercising – in fact regular stretching at the start of a day can help increase mobility.  Apart from improving joint flexibility, it can also help to prevent muscle cramps, straining of tendons and overstretching of ligaments, all of which can increase pain. Yoga and tai chi are two training exercises that involve slow movement and are ideal for stretching.

Short distance and slow movements

Limit the distance and duration of any exercise. Excessive activity can strain the joints beyond its capacity which can aggravate the pain. However, exercise is helpful in improving joint mobility and therefore moderate exercise within a person’s tolerance is advisable. Always increase the distance and duration gradually in 5 minute increments over a period of time.

Low impact physical activity

Any exercise program in the elderly with joint aches should be low impact activities. Jogging or running are high impact activities where the force on the joint is multiplied due to momentum. Walking is the better option but should be brisk walks rather than leisurely strolls for maximum cardiovascular impact. Swimming is often considered to be one of the best options but pool facilities may not always be available. These days, many modern home exercise machines provide excellent cardiovascular benefits with low joint impact movements.

Use a walking device when necessary

While most people want to rid themselves of a walking device, these aids can help to reduce pressure on the joints by bearing some of the body weight. A physical therapist and occupational therapist will be able to assist with the choice of an appropriate mobility aid that can help with exercises like walking. Although these devices can be restrictive to some degree, it helps reduce joint impact and improve stability thereby preventing falls that can lead to serious injuries.


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