Today’s guest post is by Brad Breeding from My LifeSite. Brad Breeding is President and co-founder of My LifeSite ,a  company that provides online resources designed to help families more effectively navigate the myriad of retirement living options.

Senior Aches & Pains: Could It Be Arthritis?

“Oooh, my ___ hurts!” If you are an older American, odds are, you have recently uttered this phrase, or something similar. Whether you fill in the blank with “back,” “knee,” “wrists,” or some other joint, you are far from alone. It is estimated that more than 21 million Americans have osteoarthritis, and another 2.1 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. So what is the difference in these two conditions?

Osteoarthritis: Also known as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is typically considered to be an age-related condition impacting older people (though it can also be the result of repetitious motions in younger people). It is caused by repeated wear-and-tear damage to the cartilage that caps the bones in joints. While it can affect any joint in the body, osteoarthritis most commonly impacts the hands, knees, hips, and spine.

Rheumatoid arthritis: Occurring at any age, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that typically affects the small joints in the hands and feet. It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints, causing painful swelling that can eventually lead to bone erosion and permanent deformity. In addition to causing joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis sometimes can impact other parts of the body, including the skin, eyes, lungs, and blood vessels.

Which one is it?

If you are a senior, accurate diagnosis of your aches and pains is important because the treatment for these two conditions differs.

Rheumatoid arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis (from WebMD)
Characteristic Rheumatoid arthritis Osteoarthritis
Age at which the condition starts May begin any time in life Usually begins later in life
Speed of onset Relatively rapid, over weeks to months Slow, over years
Joint symptoms Joints are painful, swollen, and stiff Joints ache and may be tender but have little or no swelling
Pattern of joints that are affected Often affects small and large joints on both sides of the body (symmetrical), such as both hands, both wrists or elbows, or the balls of both feet. Symptoms often begin on one side of the body and may spread to the other side. Symptoms begin gradually and are often limited to one set of joints, usually the finger joints closest to the fingernails or the thumbs, large weight-bearing joints (hips, knees), or the spine.
Duration of morning stiffness Lasts longer than 1 hour Lasts less than 1 hour; stiffness returns at the end of the day or after periods of activity
Presence of symptoms affecting the whole body (systemic) Frequent fatigue and a general feeling of being ill Not present

Treatment options

While neither arthritic condition is curable, there are ways to reduce your pain and improve your quality of life. Treatment of osteoarthritis usually includes analgesics (pain relievers), topical creams, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Certain exercises or physical therapy can also produce some symptom relief, and joint replacement surgery may be an option for larger joints (such as the knee or hip) that are seriously damaged.

Common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis also include NSAIDs as well as corticosteroid medications, which reduce inflammation and pain and can slow joint damage. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are also able to slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and can save the joints and other tissues from permanent damage. Biologic agents, a newer class of DMARDs, target the parts of the immune system that trigger the inflammation that causes joint and tissue damage. 

Don’t ignore your pain

While a few minor aches here and there are a normal part of the aging process, pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is not right, so if you are feeling older than your age, it is time to make an appointment with your primary care doctor. He or she may refer you to an orthopedist or and rheumatologist based on your specific symptoms.

Brad Breeding is President and co-founder of My LifeSite ,a  company that provides online resources designed to help families more effectively navigate the myriad of retirement living options.


2 thoughts on “Senior Aches & Pains: Could It Be Arthritis?

  1. As a practising physical therapist at healthclues Hyderabad, I often surprise to see that many people just keep ignoring their joint pains until they become much worse. There is an understanding that something like this should be just accepted as part of aging. However, this acceptance of pain can often lead to much more adverse circumstances, which could have been easily avoided through early diagnosis and intervention. The most common reason for joint pains is arthritis, although sometimes injuries to the tissues such as tendons and ligaments can also cause the pain. For more info:


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