You may be chalking up your stiff joints and aching muscles to old age, but there may be other easily treatable conditions that are the cause of your discomfort. In some instances, yes, the aging process can cause aches and stiffness. However, the problem could be from an entirely different and diagnosable condition with readily available help that can provide relief. So, don’t just write off your stiffness as part of the aging process. If you want to learn if it is possible to live relatively pain-free and control your stiffness, reading this article may well be worth your time.
Allowing your physician to dismiss your stiffness and discomfort as “old age” before fully investigating the cause and offering treatment is basically giving up when there may still be options for help available. Advocating for yourself is an important factor in a successful patient-physician relationship. As a family nurse practitioner, I have always welcomed patient input as a part of the diagnosis and treatment plan. In addition, I have seen far too many seniors who did not realize that there is help for stiffness and immobility.
Treatable Conditions That Cause Stiffness and Immobility
Numerous conditions can cause stiffness and immobility. Listed below are the main culprits:
- Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of joint stiffening and discomfort as we age. OA affects the joints; symptoms include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease and common form of joint inflammation that develops in people ages 30-60. If left untreated, RA can be quite debilitating.
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) is an often overlooked inflammatory autoimmune condition that affects the muscles and areas surrounding the joints. Main areas affected include the neck, shoulders, pelvic girdle, and knees.
- Gout usually comes on fairly quickly and presents with a red, hot, and swollen joint. It rarely affects multiple areas at the same time.
- Bursitis is an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that surround your joints, called bursae. Bursitis typically affects only one joint or area.
- There are over a hundred autoimmune diseases, many of which cause joint discomfort. Autoimmune diseases can present with a variety of vague symptoms, so your doctor will need to order blood tests to help figure out if you have one of these conditions.
What To Do About Stiffness and Pain
If you are suffering from pain, stiffness, or swelling, there are several things that can be done to help ease your discomfort. The following list is a recommended approach to get you started in your quest for increased comfort and mobility:
- Talk to your doctor or AGNP first and foremost; it is vital that you honestly discuss your symptoms and concerns. If your doctor brushes off your concerns, don’t be worried that you’ll come off as too pushy if you ask for additional tests to rule out other conditions, such as x-rays and blood work. It is your right to obtain full and appropriate treatment.
- Medications一There are loads of options for medications on the market for every one of the possible conditions listed above. Once again, discuss and possibly present ideas to your physician for the best medication treatment plan. Don’t give up if you’re told that nothing will help.
- Supplements一Discuss what supplements may be added to your treatment plan that may help to ease your stiffness and discomfort. Most doctors will not recommend supplements, but when you bring up the topic they may have some ideas and suggestions.
- Exercise一Joints stiffen up when immobile, so light exercise is recommended for those with joint rigidity. If you are receiving home care, ask for assistance in helping you to reach this goal daily. Some good low-impact ideas include walking, easy stretches, chair yoga, and tai chi.
- Diet一Many doctors will tell you to eat healthy, but not mention any specifics about how to eat to help relieve your joint pain and stiffness. Certain diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, have been proven to help ease joint inflammation and discomfort. Gain familiarity with the list of best foods to eat and those to avoid to make a difference in how you feel.
- Alternative therapies一If you are still having pain and stiffness after you have tried your doctor’s treatment plan, do not despair. There are still options to help you feel better. Some alternative treatments that have proven to help include acupuncture, physical therapy, water therapy, and massage. Everyone responds a little differently to treatment, so you may need to try more than one modality to find relief.
- Get help, if needed一If you are struggling at home to take care of your house or yourself, overdoing it will only add to your discomfort. Consider asking for help from friends or loved ones. Enlisting companion care for assistance can be a life-saver, leaving you with more time and energy to do what you love to do.
- Body stiffness can be normal as you age, but there are other causes that should be considered first if you are suffering from joint rigidity and discomfort. Frank discussions with your primary doctor, internist, or rheumatologist about available opportunities to help you feel better can only help you to reach your goal of maintaining comfort and independence.
Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN
Donna Reese is a freelance nurse health content writer with 37 years nursing experience. She has worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner in her local community clinic, as a school nurse, and in home health and rehabilitation, along with hospital nursing. Donna is passionate about the profession of nursing and supporting others. Along with health content writing, Donna writes weekly blogs to support and encourage nurses, in addition to those suffering from auto-immune conditions.