A SURVEY by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that about 30 percent of adults have experienced joint pain or stiffness in the past 30 days-and I'm not surprised. Lots of patients come into my primary-care practice complaining of the ailment. Here, I've answered two of the most common questions I hear.
Q: My joints have gotten more sore as I age. Could I have rheumatoid arthritis?
A: Maybe. Rheumatoid arthritis, a disease in which your immune system attacks the tissue around your joints, causing pain and swelling, affects about 1.3 million people in the United States. The condition usually shows up first as redness, warmth and pain in the fingers, then spreads to other joints. But your pain is more likely caused by osteoarthritis, the gradual wearing down of cartilage in your joints. About 27 million people currently live with the ailment, making it the most common type of arthritis. With osteoarthritis, you'll probably notice that morning stiffness wears off after about 30 minutes, while rheumatoid arthritis aches may linger for hours in the a.m. If you want to know for sure, talk to your doctor.
Q: What can I do to ease joint pain and prevent flare-ups?
A: Depending on what medication you take regularly, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin or ibuprofen can ease occasional joint pain. Heating pads, topical capsaicin cream (made from chili peppers) and meditation may also help by relaxing tense muscles. Fish oil supplements have shown promise in scientific studies in the treatment of joint pain, but talk to your doctor about the dose that's right for you. Low-impact exercise like walking and swimming can help prevent pain by keeping your joints flexible and muscles strong. (During a flare-up, though, it's best to rest the affected joints).