Homechronic painCommon Joint Problems, Solved

Common Joint Problems, Solved

Neck, shoulders, knees and toes: Joints—or, simply, any area where two bones meet—hold us together and keep us moving. Their seamless hinging and gliding allow us to walk down the street, bend to tie our sneakers, grab a loved one's hand—and so much more.But all that work makes them prone to crackles and pops now and then: In fact, about a third of adults have reported joint pain over any given month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And women are more likely to have instability in their joints than men, most likely thanks to the higher amount of estrogen in our bodies, explains Neil S. Roth, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. In fact, more women than men in the over-45 age group say they have joint pain, a CDC report states.

Thankfully, there's a lot you can do to avoid aches, sprains, stiffness and other common joint issues—from standing up straighter to adopting some simple stretches. Read on for all the right moves that will keep you limber enough to take on power yoga, rock climbing or whatever's still on your bucket list. Next Page: Problem #1: Sprains

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The lowdown. RA occurs when your immune system goes into overdrive and attacks the synovium—the tissue that lines your joints—causing joint and cartilage damage. It affects up to 5 percent of women, and it seems to be on the rise. "It's a mystery as to why, but a mix of factors may be involved: genetic susceptibility, low vitamin D levels, environmental factors like smoking or exposure to viruses like the Epstein-Barr virus," says Robert Keenan, MD, an RA specialist at Duke University.

What it feels like. Unlike the osteo variety, RA causes symmetrical pain (say, in both thumbs), most often in smaller joints such as those in the feet. You might also have stiffness.

Rx. Targeted prescription medications can alleviate this condition. The most common ones are disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate, and biologics such as abatacept. If these aren't effective, a new class of small molecule drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors may be prescribed. Lifestyle tweaks can also help: A 2012 UCLA study found that yoga improved mood and lessened fatigue in younger subjects.

Next Page: Problem #5: Fibromyalgia

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Problem #5: Fibromyalgia

The lowdown. Fibromyalgia—which affects about 10 million people in the United States, as many as 90 percent of whom are women—is a disorder that causes "tender points" on body parts such as your back, arms, shoulders and legs. While it's a disorder of the soft tissue, it often presents itself as joint pain. "We're not sure why it's so much more prevalent in women—one thought is that hormones like estrogen make some women's brains more susceptible to sensations of pain," says Abby Abelson, MD, chair of the department of rheumatic and immunologic diseases at the Cleveland Clinic.

What it feels like. Constant fatigue coupled with muscle aches, twitching or burning that may feel like the flu. Sleep problems are common, too.

Rx. If your doctor suspects that it's fibromyalgia, she'll examine you and may run a bunch of blood tests. "It's usually a diagnosis of exclusion, after ruling out other conditions, like hypothyroidism," Dr. Abelson says. If you've had at least seven tender points for at least three months, along with other symptoms such as unexplainable tiredness, it's most likely fibromyalgia. Three drugs—duloxetine, pregabalin and milnacipran—have been FDA-approved to treat the disorder, but that's not your only recourse. Regular exercise (20 minutes to an hour at least twice a week) and/or talking to a therapist on the phone once a week seems to reduce pain, notes a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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