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Injured Boomers Beware: Know When to See Doctor

Associated Press/Yahoo! News—February 13, 2012

It happened to nurse Jane Byron years after an in-line skating fall.

"It" is that pop, strain or suddenly swollen joint that reminds active older adults they aren't as young as they'd like to think.

Even among the fittest baby boomers, aging bodies just aren't as nimble as young ones, and they're more prone to minor damage that can turn serious if ignored or denied.

Costly knee replacements have more than tripled in people aged 45-64 in recent years but active boomers can avoid that kind of drastic treatment by properly managing aches and pains.

The key for most injuries is what happens over the next two to three days. If things start to improve — less pain, more range of motion — then there's often no need to see a doctor. But if pain or swelling don't subside with self-help, then it's time to make an appointment.

Common injuries in active boomers include:

—Tendinitis — painful inflamed tendons in the elbow, shoulder or knee.

—Tears to the meniscus, cartilage that cushions the knee but that becomes more brittle with age and prone to injury, especially from sudden twisting.

—Back pain, often from arthritis or aging discs in the lower spine.

Most can be treated with things like ice to curb swelling immediately after the injury, hot pads or other heat treatment for pain, over-the-counter painkillers, and rest.

In some ways, Jane Byron exemplifies the best — and worst — ways to handle those injuries.

At 51, the New York City cancer nurse is a self-described exercise "maniac." Her daily workouts often include walking, biking, leg pressing 400-pound weights and stair-climbing at her gym.

All that exercise has kept her extremely fit, and she rejects the idea that she might be overdoing it. So she had some choice words for the doctor who suggested she consider slowing down a bit when her right knee swelled up six years ago.

His diagnosis was torn cartilage likely from a 1999 fall while in-line skating. Byron had never been in pain nor sought treatment for that injury until the swelling began.

She had the cartilage surgically repaired and injections of lubricant medicine for knee arthritis. But she continued rigorous workouts right up until 2010, when she developed hip pain, probably from walking funny to favor her bum knee. By then she needed both knees replaced, but a physical therapist told her that being so fit would speed her recovery. Within a week after both surgeries, she was back riding an indoor bike.

Overdoing it can aggravate minor injuries, but abandoning activity isn't a good solution, either, because exercise has so many health benefits, said Dr. Steven Haas, an orthopedic specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Instead, make sure you're well-conditioned and "listen to your body," Haas said. Switching to less rigorous activities is sometimes the answer. "If your knee is killing you every day after you run, you're probably not doing the right sport."

This story originally appeared at yahoo.com.


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