The generation of peace and love has evolved into the generation of aches and pains.
Baby Boomers - people born between the years 1946 and 1964 - are getting older. Approximately 7,900 Americans turn 60 each day. That's about 330 every hour, or more than 4 million a year. The significance of these numbers is that within 20 years one in five Americans will be older than 65.
As a group, Baby Boomers are living nearly twice as long as previous generations, and for the most part, are remaining much more active, And while this on-the-go population segment may not want to slow down, a wide range of aches and pains is starting to cramp their style. In a recent study, more than two out of three boomers said they suffer from muscle and joint pain at least once a week.
However, this generation is less resigned to simply accept injury and pain as an inevitable part of aging, and, according to Craig Morton, MD, rehabilitation physician specialist with Center for Orthopaedics, they don't have to. " I often see older adults who want to keep doing all the things they did when they were younger, but find themselves struggling due to chronic pain. Fortunately, we have many more options to offer people who want to maintain an active lifestyle as they age."
Dr. Morton says the original source of pain is typically just the natural wear and tear that occurs to joints over time. "As you get older, your joints start to show the signs of years of use, just like anything else, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to stop using them." He explains that Boomers often unknowingly make their problem worse by cutting back on their activities when they experience joint pain. "Their knee or back hurts after physical activity, so they stop doing that activity. This results in a loss of muscle strength, decreased range of motion, reduced circulation to the area, and stiffness. So the next time they need to exert that part of their body, they experience more pain and stiffness due to inactivity. Pretty soon, that knee or back is painful any time they move. It's a vicious cycle that can quickly lead to an extreme reduction in activity and chronic pain."
The good news is that Baby Boomers do not have to live with the pain. "There is so much we can do to provide pain relief. "Many baby boomers are reluctant to seek help because they feel surgery or joint replacement is their only option. But that is definitely not the case. We have an arsenal of non-surgical interventions that can often eliminate - or at least delay - the need for surgery for joint pain," says Dr. Morton.
He says the first step is a comprehensive physical exam to assess functional status, which helps identify the source and cause of the pain. "With older adults, it is very common for the muscles that stabilize and support the joint to be weak. This can lead to instability around the joint, which can worsen arthritis and pain. If we can correct that with a program of physical therapy and strength training, that patient can not only be pain-free, but also be able to return to a more active lifestyle."
Other non-surgical treatment options may include over-the-counter or prescription medications, injections, heat and cold therapies, electrotherapies, massage, bracing, rehabilitation programs, nutritional recommendations and therapeutic exercise.
"The treatment is determined based an each individual's unique situation - their pain level and functional capacity. When it comes to pain management in these cases, there is no 'one-size-fits-all approach," says Dr. Morton.
And that's something free-spirited Baby Boomers can certainly appreciate.