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Joint Pain Not Inevitable With Age

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.

Painkillers Can Spell Relief

If lifestyle changes don't ease your pain, medication is often prescribed. For mild pain, a simple painkiller can often help, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). A newer class of NSAIDs known as Cox-2 inhibitors includes Vioxx, Celebrex, and Bextra.

In September 2004, Vioxx was voluntarily withdrawn from markets worldwide by Merck, the drug's maker. The decision followed news that a clinical trial showed an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

In April 2005, the FDA asked that Celebrex carry new warnings about the potential risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as potential stomach ulcer bleeding risks. At the same time, the FDA asked that Bextra be removed from the market because its risks of heart, stomach, and skin problems outweighed its benefits

Also in April 2005, the FDA asked that over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs -- except for aspirin - revise their labels to include information about potential heart and stomach ulcer bleeding risks.

For people -- particularly seniors -- who are taking multiple medications for other conditions such as high blood pressure, the doctor may ultimately decide which painkiller to prescribe based on which is safest for you. High doses of acetaminophen, for example, can damage the liver, so they probably wouldn't be recommended for someone with liver problems.

That's why it is so important that a senior never self-medicate, Weiss stresses. "Always ask your doctor before taking drugs, even if they are sold over the counter, without a prescription. Tell him what other drugs have been prescribed to you by other physicians. And be sure to ask about dosage, which can vary according to age."

Whichever type of painkiller is prescribed, seniors should be checked for liver and kidney problems; any loss of blood; and any change in blood pressure, he says.

Other Ways to Relieve Pain

Heat or cold therapy can often provide temporary pain relief, Whetstone Mescher says. "Some people prefer heat packs, others ice packs," she says, "so try both, and see which works better for you." Neither should be kept on the joints for more than 20 minutes at a time, she adds.

For other patients, "creams such as Ben-Gay that are associated with a warm, peppery feeling can help," Weiss says. "Rubbing the cream stimulates the skin around the joint, reducing pain."

Joint fluid supplements. For patients who have not gotten relief from lifestyle changes and pain medications, a newer approach known as joint fluid supplements -- called viscosupplements by doctors -- may be recommended.

The supplements contain a synthetic form of hyaluronic acid, a natural chemical that acts as a lubricant and shock absorber in the joint. Not all doctors agree about this treatment: Some say the benefits are modest at most and may not be worth the discomfort of the injections.

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