5 Tips for Dealing with Common Aches & Pains as We Age
The older we get, the more it seems that our bodies are falling apart. While we can’t necessarily stop the symptoms that come with aging altogether, we can certainly minimize their overall impact.
Aches, pains, and stiffness primarily result from everyday wear and tear and natural muscle and bone loss, explains Christopher M. Dick, APN, of Woodbury Primary & Specialty Care. In addition to muscle and bone weakness, our tendons and ligaments also lose some of their flexibility and elasticity, leaving us more prone to injuries and falls.
The conditions that cause these aches and pains the most are osteopenia, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis. Osteopenia is the most common cause of decreased bone density and is a precursor to osteoporosis, which can make bones so brittle that they’re more susceptible to breaking. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, attacks the cartilage between the joints.
Luckily, studies have shown that symptoms – if the condition has already developed – and risk levels – if it hasn’t – can easily be managed and reduced with a healthy lifestyle, adds Dick. “I always say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you could work to prevent an injury before it occurs, why wouldn’t you?”
1. Consume a bone- and muscle-friendly diet.
Aging bodies are more efficient in processing energy, requiring a lot less calories, explains Dick. “Because we’re less hungry, some people cut out the wrong foods and miss key nutrients.”
Foods high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids – such as dairy products, fish, leafy greens, potatoes, oranges, bananas, and much more – are building blocks for our bones and muscles. Studies have also shown that foods deemed “superfoods,” which are rich in antioxidants, can decrease inflammation, thus alleviating aches and pains.
2. Don’t avoid moving because of your aches and pains. A daily exercise routine can help them go away!
“Exercise is essential to maximize our health, and, subsequently, our overall quality of life,” said Dick. “It keeps our bones strong, muscles toned, and allows us to function at a much higher level for a longer period of time – well into our 70s and 80s.”
Not only can a sedentary lifestyle lead to more rapid muscle and bone waste, but it can “domino” into other unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating habits, adds Dick. Experts recommend that all adults who are able fit in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise daily, whether it is part of an exercise routine, a walk around the neighborhood, or simply parking further away at the store.
If you suffer from osteoarthritis, say, in your knee, there are still exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles around the knee, such as riding a bike, says Dick. The more strength your body has to support itself, the less pain you’re likely to experience. Don’t hesitate to talk to your primary care provider about what exercises are right for you.
3. Drink more water.
Unfortunately, hydration is often overlooked as a component of a healthy lifestyle, says Dick. As we get older, we actually dehydrate a lot quicker, because our cells don’t store water the way they used to. Dehydration can easily go missed, as our body temperature doesn’t regulate the same way, and neither does our thirst response.
You should aim to drink between 60 to 80 ounces of water every day, as long as you have no pre-existing medical conditions that call for fluid restriction.
4. Consider supplements.
Certain nutrients can be difficult to consume adequate amounts of through whole foods, especially as our appetite shrinks. Different supplements that have been shown to help ease bone and muscle pains are turmeric/curcumin, magnesium, and fish oil – all of which can help reduce general inflammation, explains Dick.
Remember, because supplements aren’t FDA-regulated, they should always be discussed with a doctor before taking any.
5. Turn to those “tried-and-true” methods of alleviating pain once it’s begun.
In addition to following the healthy behaviors above, there are many other things that can aid in pain relief. In addition to aerobic exercise, try a gentle stretching/yoga routine or a muscle massage, suggests Dick. Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium, as well as topical ointments and patches may also be used.
The application of heat and/or ice may also be helpful. Muscular pain responds better to heat, whereas joint pain responds better to ice. “For a more acute/sudden pain, I recommend using ice for the first 48-72 hours to reduce inflammation, and then switching to heat to promote healing,” said Dick.
Most aches and pains can be monitored and managed at home, but if you notice something out of the ordinary or have experienced a trauma/injury, you should call your doctor as soon as possible.
If you’re unsure of something, all you have to do is ask, urges Dick. “No question is too big or too small. We’re here to help you ease your pain and enjoy life to the fullest.”