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What causes joint pain and can I avoid it?

A group of women stretching their arms out in a yoga class

Advice on easing your joint pain and how nib can help

A group of women stretching their arms out in a yoga class

There are plenty of things that get better with age – wine, cheese and a good investment – but unfortunately, your joints probably aren’t one of them.

If you’re suffering from joint pain, you’re not alone; the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2018 report found that one in three Aussies have arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, including joint pain - but opting for surgery doesn’t have to be your only choice.

We spoke with Professor David Hunter, aka ‘The Joint Doctor’ to get his advice on easing your joint pain and how nib can help.

Over 50% of age-related changes in muscles, bones and joints are caused by disuse

Why do I get joint pain as I age?

Your bone joints are cushioned by cartilage and lubricated by a fluid from inside your joint, but as you get older, this cartilage becomes thinner and the amount of fluid you produce decreases.

One simple way to minimise this is with regular exercise.

As you age, many tissues within your joints lose some of their ability to repair or heal. This means that the ligaments, muscles, bone, cartilage and other tissues responsible for your joint don’t function as well. Moving your joint helps to stimulate these joint tissues to repair and being sedentary contributes to them losing function.

Over 50% of age-related changes in muscles, bones and joints are caused by disuse.

Is surgery the answer?

The amount of Aussies opting for knee or hip replacements is growing at an unsustainable rate, with a study finding that, in Victoria, between 1994-2014 hip replacements went up by 175% and knee replacements went up 285%.

But, is going under the knife always the best option? SBS Insight recently covered the increasing rates of orthopaedic surgery and whether Aussies are having too many procedures in its Joint Operation episode.

Credit: SBS Insight

“Any surgical procedure carries with it risk, concerns related to clots, infections and potentially even death. All guidelines recommend trialling less invasive alternatives first,” explains Professor Hunter.

And surgery isn’t necessarily the ‘quick fix’ that you might assume.

“Recovery from a joint replacement typically takes months to years and will involve a substantial amount of work to gain full recovery.”

Aside from the lengthy recovery, artificial joints need to be replaced – the average knee replacement will last for 10-12 years – so it’s a big decision to make.

For those of us in need of surgery, the good news is that the results of joint replacement surgery are excellent for the great majority of people - around 95% of hip replacement patients and 80% of knee replacement patients report that they’re satisfied with the outcome of their surgery.

What other options are there?

Most people notice a 50% improvement after losing 10% of their bodyweight -

When it comes to joint pain, the key to managing the pain often lies in finding and fixing the source of the problem, which could be resolved by increasing exercise, changing diet or stress management.

One way you can help alleviate joint pain is through weight loss, with most people noticing a 30% improvement in pain and function after losing 5% of their bodyweight and a 50% improvement after losing 10% of their bodyweight.

There are also other pain management techniques that could help, including medication, natural therapies and injections. For more information on treatment options, visit My Joint Pain.

Concerned about the state of your joints? At nib, we offer eligible customers a range of free programs that could help you get back to your healthiest, including Healthy Weight For Life™. This program is specially designed to help you manage joint pain and includes more than $800 worth of meal replacement products, personalised service and online support. For more information check out our Health Management Programs page.

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