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Injured boomers, beware: Know when to see doctor

Chicago SunTimes—April 17, 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. But not every twist or turn needs medical attention, and knowing when it’s OK to self-treat pays off in the long run, in dollars and in health.

Costly knee replacements have more than tripled in people ages 45 to 64 in recent years, and a recent study found that almost 1 in 20 Americans older than 50 have these artificial joints. But active boomers can avoid that kind of drastic treatment by properly managing aches and pains.

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

At 51, the cancer nurse is a self-described exercise “maniac.”  Her daily workouts often include walking, biking and stair-climbing at her gym.

All that exercise has kept her extremely fit, so she had some choice words for the doctor who suggested she consider slowing down when her right knee swelled up six years ago.

His diagnosis was torn cartilage likely from a 1999 fall while in-line skating.

She had the cartilage surgically repaired and injections of lubricant medicine for knee arthritis. But she continued rigorous workouts up until 2010, when she developed hip pain. 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, 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.


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