One of the more regular musculoskeletal issues and complaints associated with getting older I see is joint pain and stiffness.
This can be attributed to getting older but it doesn’t have to be an ongoing or worsening situation, and it certainly doesn’t have to be the primary source of your pain just because your x-ray or scan says so!
So you may go to your Doctor and you may get an x-ray or scan – which can come back showing ‘wear and tear’ or osteoarthritis (the process of wear in our joints, with both wear and tear and osteoarthritis being very interchangeable descriptions and really meaning the same thing).
But this is unsurprising as when you’ve been around for some years things aren’t likely to be or stay how they once were.
There are now lots of research articles, including very recently in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), that show if you have a scan or x-ray of a joint it is highly likely to show some joint wear or osteoarthritis the older we are.
The probability is very high, but because an x-ray or scan says you have osteoarthritis or wear and tear, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is always the primary source of your problem or pain.
The fact is, large parts of the population will have these joint changes, but they may never complain of any joint pain or stiffness.
So there is no definitive correlation with these types of findings and joint pain and stiffness.
We would always be looking for other associated issues like joint swelling or deformity or reduced joint movement and function, due to stiffness and/or pain to support such findings as the source of pain and discomfort.
Even if it were down to some wear or osteoarthritis all is not lost.
You don’t always need an injection or a joint replacement. There is plenty of research, including in the BMJ and in NICE guidelines, about the effectiveness of controlled exercise and pacing your activities.
There is also research to suggest manual therapy (getting our hands on your joints), which includes mobilising, strengthening, stretching and stabilising the joint, can be very effective alongside a good exercise programme.
Acupuncture for joint pain relief has also got a strong link with the treatment of pain associated with joint osteoarthritis and wear.
So not all is lost. Consider your options, don’t put up with it, you don’t necessarily need to take all those pain relief pills now or for the rest of your life, and neither do you need a joint replacement now or ever!
Find a good local physiotherapist who can give you a thorough assessment, with treatment if deemed necessary with a good exercise programme and/or acupuncture in the form of a western based dry needling approach.
If you are not sure, always ask your GP or your local Chartered Physiotherapist.
Blog compiled by Kevin Huffington, Clinical Director and Lead Physiotherapist at Central Health