Joint pains: recognizing, and easing, them

Are you starting an activity program that’s wrong for you?Take care exercising New Year’s resolutions.

For many Americans, the “snap, crackle and pop” they hear in the morning is not coming from their breakfast cereal, but rather, their aching joints — especially this time of year as former couch potatoes hit the gym in earnest to fulfill their New Year’s resolution to get in shape.

“No pain, no gain?”

This exercise mantra doesn’t work if you’re already feeling pain on a daily basis.

“New Year’s has come and gone, and with that comes aggressive health and fitness goals,” said Mark Carpenter, owner of Prodigy Fitness & Training in Springboro. “It is understandable that we want to hop off the couch and conquer the world of weights. As this may sound great, it could come with painful consequences.”

Whether it’s kick-starting an exercise program, training for a local road race or simply returning to yard work after a long season of inactive activity — not to mention the aging process — all can cause joint pain. In fact, joint pain is an everyday occurrence for most Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 30 percent of adults they surveyed had experienced some form of joint pain in the preceding 30 days. Knee pain was reported in nearly 20 percent of the adults, followed by pain in the shoulder, finger and hip.

Muscular skeletal joint pain also plays a large role in why patients may go to their primary care physicians, local emergency rooms and, even more so, local orthopedic offices.

“There is no doubt that joint pain is the vast majority of what I see,” said Brian Lewis, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Montgomery Orthopedic Surgeons and Associates.

Joint pain can be caused by osteoarthritis, injury, prolonged abnormal posture or even repetitive motion. Age, genetics and weight are common risk factors of joint pain, Dr. Lewis said. However, Dr. Lewis said that most individual’s joints become painful because they become too ambitious such as starting a new workout routine without learning to strengthen muscles first or even training for a marathon without listening when their body is telling them to rest.

“I am not going to encourage anyone to not be active or get out there, but I do think people cause more pain by initiating an activity program that wouldn’t be right for them,” Dr. Lewis said.

In fact, scientific studies have shown that physical activity can reduce pain and improve function, mood, and quality of life for adults with arthritis. Physical activity can also help manage other chronic conditions that are common among adults with arthritis, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, according to the CDC.

Safely managing overall health is an important part of Carpenter role as a trainer. He has his clients complete a physical readiness questionnaire that alerts him to any medical conditions a client may have before a fitness plan is created.

“The [exercise] program will be written based on what a client wants to accomplish, and it’s effectiveness will be evident by the changes in how they look and feel,” Carpenter said.

“Fitness should be a life long commitment. Instead of coming in for two weeks of extreme workouts, the focus should be on being consistent for an extended period of time. Consistency will always beat intensity.”

Reducing the risk

One of the top ways a person can reduce their risk for joint pain — and the progression of arthritis — is to maintain a healthy weight. Another way to avoid joint pain is to stay active. Research has shown that aerobic and strength training plays an important role in joint health. One of the greatest benefits for those with arthritis is to engage in low-impact activity such as walking 150 minutes a week although studies have shown that more than half of adults with the health issue walked less than 90 minutes per week, the CDC said.

“If you keep the muscles and the soft tissues around the joints stronger they are better able to support the joints and bones and will reduce the risk of pain,” he said.

Joint pain should never prevent someone from being physically active for the long-term. Those who do experience joint pain should know there is always hope for restoration through the use of many treatments such as physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications.

When asked about over-the-counter supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin, Dr. Lewis said that he doesn’t advise for or against it.

“The literature does not show any benefit from their use,” said Dr. Lewis. “That being said there are many people that swear that they work. However, they are relatively safe medications to take so I tell people if they are interested that they can give it a try. I also tell people that are taking them and wondering if they are helping to take a break from the medications to see if they notice a difference.”

Dr. Lewis advises people who want to try over-the-counter supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin to do so in conjunction with more proven treatments for osteoarthritis such as NSAIDs, cortisone injections, physical therapy, low impact aerobic exercise, and weight reduction.

“All of these things are meant to manage symptoms of the joint pain in order to get you out there and to keep you physically active because, in the end, that’s the most important part of joint health,” Lewis said.

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