Common Pains as You Age
Don't feel like you did at 20? Here's what those aches may mean.
In Your 40s and 50s continued...
A total lack of exercise can cause stiff joints, shoulder pain, and hip
The fix: Take a conservative approach to treatment.
When it comes to treating short-term joint and lower back pain, nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may help,
but people often make the mistake of giving up too quickly, Moon says.
"It may take 10-14 days of regular dosing for the full anti-inflammatory
benefit [from NSAIDs] to kick in. Often, people abandon them too early," Moon
says. The same is true of prescription medications with side effects that cause
people to stop taking them before they have a chance to make a difference.
When dealing with chronic back pain, many people in the U.S. rush too
quickly to surgery, Dubois says.
"People think that something is mechanically wrong and [that the back]
should be fixed like a car," he says. But it's not that easy; the back pain
often returns, worse than before, after two years, Dubois says. "It's not the
He suggests trying physical therapy, spinal and muscle injections of
corticosteroids (which reduce inflammation), local anesthetics, or a
combination of both to relieve pain. Acupuncture has also been shown to be very
effective. He encourages people to be persistent and try various treatments
until they get some relief.
Fix: Develop strength and balance.
Strengthening your core muscles, which include your abs, is also important
for low back pain. Your lower back is better supported when your abdominal
muscles are strong.
Also work on strengthening the quadriceps muscles -- which are between your
hip and knee cap on the front of your upper leg -- during your 40s and 50s.
"I think quad strengthening helps in fall prevention. It helps people who
have back pain to learn to use their legs more so they don't have to use their
back so much. It helps prevent knee pain as well," Moon says.
And if you haven't already started working on your balance, now is the time,
because as you age, you're more likely to fall. Moon recommends the martial
arts Tai Chi or Qigong to strengthen the quadriceps and improve balance. These
practices involve meditation, slow graceful movements, and controlled
In Your 60s, 70s, and Beyond
In your 60s, 70s, and beyond, arthritis and degenerative spinal disc disease
become more common and can become a significant source of pain. Again,
medications and holistic treatments such as acupuncture and yoga can be very
Broken bones from falls become a greater concern, as does pain associated
with diseases such as cancer. With serious medical conditions, sometimes
pain isn't prioritized because the focus is on the disease.
That's a mistake. "If pain stays too long in a cancer patient, it by itself
can become a major aspect of the disease," Dubois says. Not addressing pain
also hampers quality of life.
The fix: Make pain care a priority.
Pain that keeps you awake at night and impacts social and family life often
causes a patient's condition to worsen quickly, which is why it must receive
its own treatment so it doesn't take over your life.