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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.

    Getting the Right Diagnosis continued...

    Depression: Sadness is not the only hallmark of depression. There also may be physical symptoms like unexplained aches and pains, studies show. The most commonly cited symptoms are frequent headaches, back pain, joint pain, and abdominal pain - all of which may mask the depression. These physical symptoms may be related to or aggravated by the depression and can linger longer than the emotional symptoms.

    Some doctors, like Hoffman, believe that these physical symptoms are really signs of fibromyalgia. "The two conditions do seem to commonly coexist," he tells WebMD. "Also, depression may bring a heightened awareness of pain. Treating the depression is important."

    Ask your family doctor for a referral to a specialist who deals with the type of pain you are experiencing, advises Charles Weiss, MD, chairman emeritus of the department of orthopaedics and rehabilitation at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla.

    Lifestyle Changes

    While there is no cure for joint pain, you can find relief, the experts say. Treatments range from lifestyle changes to medications to surgery -- and should usually be tried in that order.

    Lose weight: If you are overweight, the first step is to shed those excess pounds. Whetstone Mescher points to a recent study showing that losing as little as 11 pounds can cut the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee by 50%.

    Start exercising: The next step may be to work with a physical therapist to develop an exercise program that's right for you. All too often, pain victims get caught in a vicious cycle: Their aching joints prevent them from exercising, which causes their joints to weaken further and their condition to deteriorate, Whetstone Mescher explains.

    "A physical therapist is key, especially if you don't know where to start," she says. "They can tell you which exercises are best -- usually those that improve strength, endurance, and range of motion -- and recommend specific joint exercises designed specifically for pain relief."

    Getting 40 minutes of exercise at a time -- three or four days a week -- is generally advised. Some suggestions:

    • If you have access to a pool, water workouts are often recommended. The buoyancy of water supports the weight of the body, taking the stress off stiff and achy joints and making it much easier to exercise.
    • Biking, walking, and other low-impact exercises that don't put pounding pressure on the joints are also helpful. But high-impact exercises such as jogging should usually be avoided, and never subscribe to the "No pain, no gain" mantra, Whetstone Mescher says.

    Wear correct footwear. "Buy soft cushiony shoes that provide an extra layer of protective padding," advises Letha Griffin, MD, bone expert and team physician at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

    If you smoke, quit. It's been shown that smoking has an effect on both bone health and response to treatment.

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