It's important to know that joint pain isn't a malady your loved one needs to live with: There's a variety of treatments (including non-surgical interventions) available to patients with degenerative joint disease. What is more difficult, often, is persuading some aging or senior loved ones experiencing anxiety about consulting a physician to actually make an appointment. That delay, itself, can be problematic: The longer treatment is put off, especially for those suffering from arthritis, an increasing amount of damage can be caused, leaving joint pain to worsen over time.
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When to Schedule an Appointment for Joint Pain
The first step is to gauge the severity of their pain. "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 struggling to climb stairs, avoiding physical games with grandchildren or a subtle decreases from other activities they typically enjoy, like cooking or baking. You might also inquire about their discomfort by asking them about their normal happenings. "This type of change in activity is a useful thing to notice," Dr. Hume details. They may also have openly complained about their joint pain, but remain uneasy about seeking treatment.
"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.
What are the options for treating joint pain?
Many people have a fear of surgery, believing 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 your aging loved one that there have been significant medical advancements that can alleviate their pain, and -- most importantly -- that surgery might not be necessary. "Good, basic and simple care for degenerative joint disease is certainly well within the care of a family doctor," Dr. Hume notes. That said, if the pain is more serious, a specialist might be in order. "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, if 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 Dr. 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."
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 — one gift you cannot wrap with a bow.