'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
"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.
Researchers found that widely experienced "aches and
pains" reported by people as they age may be in part due to what they
describe as a difference in pain threshold and tolerance between old and young
people. They found that older people appeared to have a higher pain threshold
than younger people, but also a diminished ability to dampen pain once it
So it may not be wise to take what seems like age-related pain
in stride. It may be a sign not of age, but of an underlying condition that may
be treatable by a doctor.