Joint pain may be inevitable, but staying active is key to prevention

Apr 19, 2013

Two of the most common surgeries among people over 65 are knee and hip replacements. Baby boomers in particular are seeking relief because they often don't want joint pain to slow them down.  Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen, hosts of WRVO's new weekly health show, "Take Care" spoke with Dr. Seth Greenky, the chairman for orthopedic surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, about the causes of joint pain and what to do about it.

Lorraine Rapp: Is joint pain inevitable as we age? Is everyone going to get joint pain?

Dr. Greenky: If you live long enough. If you live long enough, eventually you're going to get some joint aches and pains. Now, whether you get it at 35 or 85, part of that is partly genetic, and partly related to whether you were a farmer or whether you were a desk-type person. So your job, your life contributes to it, but genetics also contributes to it.

Lorraine Rapp: So you find yourself in mid-life, you realize your parts are aging, you are at a point where you're in pain, what can a person do to prevent it from going any further than that?

Dr. Greenky: It's interesting that it's counterintuitive, because you would think that as you started to develop arthritis, what you should do is potentially back off on some of your activities. But it turns out that the fitter you are, the stronger your muscles are around each joint that is involved, the less symptomatic it is. It doesn't mean that it necessarily slows the arthritis, but you can go a lot longer and be symptom free if you're in good shape. As far as specific exercises, impact loading exercises like jumping and running tend to be more harmful to your joints that non-impact loading, like biking or elliptical or swimming. As far as supplements go, the evidence is weak at best. So all the supplements, like chondroitin sulfate, and all those different things, they are borderline successful.

Linda Lowen: Dr. Greenky, then, you said, it's almost counterintuitive who may develop joint issues. So, if you maintain regular physical activity, chances are better than you're going to have fewer problems than someone who is sedentary for most of the day.

Dr. Greenky: Absolutely. Even if you do develop arthritis, if you're exercising regularly, the odds of you having to do something for it are extended longer.

Lorraine Rapp: So let's say it deteriorates to the point where you're really in acute pain. Is that the time you go to see a medical professional?

Dr. Greenky: You know, pain is so subjective, as you know. I mean, there's pain that people tolerate and pain that people don't tolerate, and everybody's tolerance is sort of different. So the bottom line is, when you start developing something that impacts your quality of life -- I mean, everybody has a little bit of pain, a little bit of discomfort, some stiffness --  but you deal with it until it effects something that is important for you. So it's a quality of life issue, I think even more than a pain issue, most of the time.

Linda Lowen: But do you think this attitude that you're describing, that's probably more common for our generation. I mean, I look at my parents, I look at my older relatives, and they just accepted the fact that as they aged they'd slow down, they'd do less.

Dr. Greenky: You're 100 percent right. We don't tolerate lack of activity very well. We have a mindset that we're basically going to be doing the same things at 65 as we were doing at 25.

Lorraine Rapp: So is a good candidate, then, for joint replacement surgery when it gets to that point?

Dr. Greenky: First of all you come in, you assess the degree, you certainly offer all the appropriate conservative modalities before you talk about joint replacement. But, in the end, if everything's failed, and your quality of life is impacted enough that you're not happy, that you're not doing things you want to do, then that's the time you think of doing something.

More of this interview can be heard on "Take Care," WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m.  Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.