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How and When to Encourage Your Loved Ones to Address Their Joint Pain

Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

In just a few days, the holiday season will be in full swing with festivities and gatherings abound. For a lot of people, this means seeing loved ones and family members that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to regularly visit. Unfortunately, this could also mean discovering that your older friends and relatives are suffering from joint pain in their hips or knees, an ailment that, for many people who consider themselves able-bodied and independent, is an upsetting realization. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 40% of adults diagnosed with arthritis report limitations in their everyday activities. Additionally, the longer treatment is delayed, the more damage arthritis causes, leaving joint pain to worsen over time.

It’s important to know, however, that joint pain isn’t a malady your loved one needs to live with. In fact, there are a variety of treatments (including non-surgical interventions) available to patients with degenerative joint disease. What might be awkward, then, is persuading older people who are experiencing anxiety about consulting a physician to make an appointment.

The first step is to gauge the severity. “If it starts interfering with normal non-stressful activities, that’s something that should get them thinking seriously,” says Eric L. Hume, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Penn Musculoskeletal Center. “It’s the persistence and daily occurrence of pain with the activities of daily living that’s problematic.”

Over the holidays, this might include difficulty getting up the stairs, avoiding playing with grandchildren or decreased activity doing things they typically enjoy like cooking. You might also inquire about discomfort by asking them about their normal goings-on.

“If the loved ones sees someone giving up activities that they used to enjoy, you could address that by calmly saying, ‘I’m sorry to see that you’re not playing tennis or not enjoying getting down with the grandchildren like you used to,’” says Dr. Hume “This type of change in activity is a useful thing to notice.”

Your loved one may also have openly complained about their joint pain, but remains uneasy about seeking treatment. Many people have a fear of surgery and believe that surgery is the only real option for joint pain. This fear causes them to postpone treatment, causing additional damage to the joint and often unneeded limitations on their lifestyle.

It’s crucial to explain to him or her that there have been significant medical advancements that can alleviate their pain. And most importantly, surgery might not be necessary. Dr. Hume notes, “Good, basic and simple care for degenerative joint disease is certainly well within the care of a family doctor.”

That said, if the pain is more serious, a specialist might be in order. Dr. Hume says, “A good surgeon will discuss all of the medical choices.”

These choices could include over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, a referral to a rheumatologist or rehabilitation specialist, or, when necessary, surgery.

By consulting either a family physician or orthopaedic surgeon, and undergoing treatment, your loved one’s overall quality of life can be markedly improved. It could allow them to resume day-to-day activities and improve their exercise regimen, or as observed by Hume, it could be the wake-up call needed to reevaluate their health: “It can really be an important motivator for them to realize, for example, if they are overweight, just what an impact their weight has on their joints.”

But no matter what treatment the physician suggests, the most important thing is that you’ve encouraged your loved one to address a potentially serious condition. And that’s one gift you cannot wrap with a bow.

For more information about hip or knee joint pain, visit pennmedicine.org/joints