Creaking knees, hips, and ankles aren't necessarily normal aches and pains that come with age. Your pain might be arthritis. Luckily, medicine has a lot to offer --- from exercise and alternative supplements to medications and joint replacement.
Creaky, achy joints. A twinge in the knee. A sharp shooting pain from the shoulder to the elbow. No big deal, right?
Wrong. All too often, we assume joint pain is a normal part of aging that we just have to learn to live with. Nothing could be further from the truth, say experts, pointing to a wealth of treatment options from exercise and alternative supplements to medications and joint replacement surgery.
Osteoarthritis (OA) causes joint pain and stiffness for 27 million Americans. Although there are many medications and treatments to ease OA symptoms, many patients with severe OA decide to have joint replacement surgery. In fact, nearly 700,000 Americans undergo hip or knee replacement each year. Another 23,000 have shoulder replacement surgery.
It's a serious problem, because pain can affect every aspect of your life. "Pain is not only the experience of hurting; it affects how you handle your life, your livelihood, your interactions with family and friends," Raymond Gaeta, MD, director of pain management services at Stanford Hospital & Clinic at Stanford University, tells WebMD.
Gaeta recently published a nationwide telephone survey with some stunning results: Nearly one in five (19%) had chronic pain like that caused by arthritis. Yet nearly half said they didn't know what caused their pain. The vast majority (84%) were taking over-the-counter drugs for their pain.
"The problem is, we're used to the body healing itself naturally, so we always expect that to happen," Gaeta tells WebMD. "With chronic pain, we put up with it, we try pain relievers, but we don't always see a doctor. That's the problem -- people need to talk to their doctors. There are many techniques for pain management out there, but it starts with asking the question - what's wrong?"
"The average person may not be able tell if it's the joint, a torn tendon, or pain in the area of the joint," says Shannon Whetstone Mescher, vice president of programs and services at the Arthritis Foundation. "A physician needs to evaluate you to make sure you do in fact have joint pain and why."
Getting the Right Diagnosis
Arthritis is a catch-all term that simply means inflammation of the joints - but it's not a simple diagnosis. "We now recognize over 100 different forms of arthritis," Robert Hoffman, MD, chief of rheumatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "That's why getting the correct diagnosis is important. You need the right treatment."