'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.
Get Some Pain Relief
Ask three experts which pain reliever to use on muscle aches and minor strain injury and you'll get three different answers. One train of thought says you shouldn't take ibuprofen or aspirin after an injury. Both are blood thinners, which, in theory, may worsen bruising.
"But when you talk to orthopaedic specialists, they often say the extra bruising risk is minimal and is offset by the anti-inflammatory effects of ibuprofen," says Mike Powers, PhD, assistant professor and injury prevention specialist in the exercise and sports sciences department at the University of Florida. "There's no one answer here."
The safe bet, everyone agrees, is acetaminophen for pain, though it won't do much for swelling.
"Ice does the majority of the anti-inflammatory work, anyway," says Braith.
Stretch and Flex Pain Away
Maybe yoga and Pilates -- both strength and flexibility exercise regimens -- seem too "out there" to be of any use in dealing with aches and pains, but increasingly exercise physiologists are recommending them.
"Yoga and Pilates add tone and strength to muscles in a way that is totally nonimpact, and its use as part of an injury-prevention plan is nearly commonplace now," says Powers. "These stretching exercises increase your flexibility and help you work muscles that other strength-building programs like weight training won't affect. The more you work at increasing flexibility, the less likely you are to have injury.
That massage therapy can be a very effective muscle relaxer and stress reducer is certainly a bit of good news. A growing body of evidence suggests that massage therapy can reduce stress and reduce the severity of minor chronic pain.
Don't Ignore It
It's easy to dismiss aches and pains as a part of the aging process. But research shows that though the frequency of chronic pain goes up with age -- especially pain from osteoarthritis -- that doesn't mean that getting older means you need to live with everyday pain.
A study of pain in a scientifically sampled group of older people in Melbourne, Australia, showed that reports of acute and chronic pain do not increase with age over the age of 60, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Aging Research Institute in March 1999.