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Your Aching Joints: Normal Aging or Something Else?

If there is one thing to make you feel older, it’s aches and pains that limit your normal activity. As you age, the ligaments and tendons that hold your joints together can become stiff. This can lead to aching, soreness and pain.

However, arthritis and other disorders can develop. Osteoarthritis, commonly referred to as, “wear and tear” of the joints, is very common in middle age and elderly individuals.

It's important to listen to your body and know when we can treat it ourselves and when the aches and pains might be a sign of something serious.  Pay attention to the following situations to help your doctor diagnose your condition correctly.

Watch for:

  • Pain that does not improve with rest or over-the-counter medication
  • Pain that is worse when your body is in a certain position
  • Pain when going up or down stairs
  • Sudden, excruciating pain in the big toe
  • Fatigue, flu-like symptoms accompanying pain
  • Pain that prevents you from sleeping
  • Achy, hard-to-use hands
  • Joint pain on both sides of the body at the same time

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, talk to your doctor. Some of the possible conditions include:

  • Osteoarthritis— mentioned previously, this “wear and tear” degenerative joint disease is the most common chronic condition of the joints.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis—this is an inflammatory arthritis where the body actually attacks itself. It can present with joint pain on both sides of the body, which helps distinguish it from other types of arthritis.
  • Fibromyalgia— this chronic disorder creates pain and tenderness at numerous points throughout the body, resulting in significant pain, sleep problems, and fatigue.
  • Gout— this form of arthritis is caused by crystals forming in the joint and can cause sudden burning pain, stiffness and swelling in a joint. This most commonly occurring first in a big toe.

While many joint conditions may be irreversible, the pain and functional limitation can be treatable. Treatments range from lifestyle changes to medications to surgery, and should usually be tried in that order.

Consider trying:

  • Heat or cold therapy (never for more than 20 minutes at a time)
  • Dietary changes/weight management
  • Non-impact or low-impact exercises such as water aerobics, swimming, stationary bike or yoga
  • Injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications

If all else fails to relieve your pain and disability, and if appropriate, your doctor may recommend surgery in which an arthritic or damaged joint is removed and replaced with an artificial joint called a prosthesis. These artificial joints, made out of metal and plastic, can be extremely effective in restoring movement and function.

Medical attention should be obtained immediately if the pain gets intense, your joint suddenly becomes inflamed or deformed, or you can no longer use the joint at all.

By paying attention to your body and consulting your doctor as needed, you can help alleviate some of the aches and pain, as well as optimize function for years to come.

To schedule an appointment with our orthopedic specialists, call 330.835.5533 or visit

Ben Burkam, M.D., CAQSM
Summa Health Orthopedic Institute


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.