Mark Liszt, a food broker from Los Angeles, has had operations on both knees and a toe. A doctor has suggested a total replacement of his right knee, but he’s afraid it will affect his ability to play ball. At 59, Liszt can’t stop. On Tuesdays and Fridays, he plays basketball with guys who are sometimes half his age. On Saturday, he hobbles around all day with serious knee pain. Friends and family have referred him to doctors, but he’s stayed away. “I don’t want to be told what a fool I am,” he says.
Like many in his generation, Liszt wants to be more active than his father, whom he says he can’t imagine playing sports at this age. Playing basketball, he says, makes him feel young and keeps him in shape. His inspiration is an 81-year-old teammate, Moe, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and is still a force on the court. “I said I’ll just keep playing basketball until I can’t,” Liszt recalls telling the doctor who recommended the knee replacement. “I want to be like Moe.” So for now, he’s decided to live with the aches and pains.
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For men approaching midlife, orthopedic surgeon Stephanie Siegrist, MD, has some good news: You can stay active and feel younger. But you’ll have to put some work into it. “I encourage patients not to think, I’m getting older, I’m deteriorating,” she says. Instead, she urges them to think “As I get older, I must invest more time and effort into maintaining my resilience.” Then, rather than diagnosing your own aches and pains, says Siegrist, author of Know Your Bones: Making Sense of Arthritis Medicine, you should seek out doctors who “understand your viewpoint” and will help you maintain a realistic level of physical activity.
Why aging brings aches and pains
As you age, the ligaments and tendons that hold your joints together become “stiff and leathery,” says Siegrist. At the same time, osteoarthritis can cause the cartilage in a joint to wear away. Both processes can lead to aching, soreness, and pain. The best way to feel younger, she says, is to condition your body in ways so that if you need to run to catch a plane or shovel the snow in your driveway, your body “doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the challenge.”
Alan Hilibrand, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon and spinal specialist based in Philadelphia. He tells WebMD that arthritis can be especially debilitating in the back. While almost everyone over the age of 60 develops arthritis in the lower back, some develop degenerative disks as early as their 20s and 30s.
Men run into problems when they fail to recognize their bodies are not as resilient as they once were, says Michael Schafer, MD, chairman of orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University’s medical school and a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). This is the “weekend warrior” syndrome: The guy who sits at a desk all week joins a pickup game of volleyball and ends up rupturing his Achilles tendon.