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'Oh, My Aching Body'

Aches and pains abound -- especially as we top 40 and become "middle-aged". But the key is knowing the difference between what you can treat yourself -- and how you can treat it -- and what needs a doctor's attention.
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WebMD Feature

You crawl out of bed in the morning, and there it is: pain. For some of us, it's a hot needling in the knee. For others, it's a creaky, aching back, complete with knotted neck muscles; or it's the tender hip joint that feels like you somehow got sand in it overnight.

Do some of these need medical attention? Maybe, but some of them are everyday, run-of-the-mill aches and pains that we can treat at home. But how do you tell the difference?

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It may offer some relief to know that even for medical professionals it's not always immediately apparent which injury needs treatment and which needs a couple of ibuprofen, some light compression, and an ice pack.

Serious or Minor Injury?

"Pain itself is a good indication of the difference between injury that needs attention and injury that will resolve itself with some self-care," says Andrew Cannon, a sports trainer and physical therapist at Andover College in

Andover, Mass. "Injury that significantly impairs your mobility or that doesn't go away after 48 hours needs medical attention."

Most simple aches and pains are the result of overexertion, says Randy Braith, PhD, associate professor of exercise physiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "Achiness in medical terms is known as 'delayed onset of muscle soreness,' and that passes quickly," he says. "Overuse injuries and repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are more serious and will need to be seen by a doctor."

Here are some simple remedies for treating those pains that don't need a doctor.

For a twisting injury to knee, hip, or other major joint, think RICE.

"That's short for rest, ice, compress, and elevate," says Cannon. "Right away after an injury, this is the first step to take." Rest and ice are easy enough, and so is elevation, but what about compression? Cannon says that it's important to apply light compression.

"You want to have no more compression than that which you would get by simply resting your hand on the ice pack," he says. "The pressure of an Ace-type bandage is too much and can cause significant extra injury by affecting the superficial nerves in the area of injury."

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