Is there really any exercise you should avoid when you’re over 50? Throughout my career, I have worked with many people over 50 who enjoy the same activities they did in their 40s, such as surfing, playing tennis, hockey, running, hiking, etc., so the short answer It’s not.”
None of these activities are considered “easy on the joints” – and yes, you may have to make some modifications to continue enjoying them – but you certainly don’t have to stop if you don’t want to.
So why do some people see age as a number, while others see age as a time to slow down and stop doing certain things?
When you’re over 50, the two most common reasons I see people avoid activities they love are because 1) they fear the pain will cause damage to their body and 2) they were simply told to by a medical professional.
He is afraid that the pain might cause harm
When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, the pain itself is usually not the biggest concern for most. People are willing and able to tolerate a certain amount of pain at the cost of doing what they truly love. We do it all the time in our 20s and 30s. But as we get older, fear starts to set in when we are in pain. Naturally, we become more cautious about activity and begin to question what the pain might be doing to our body. Also, as you get older, it’s harder to recover from injuries, leading some to rationalize to themselves that it’s better to avoid certain activities because it’s “safer” than getting injured.
So does pain mean we are hurting? Not necessarily. Pain is simply a signal from your brain that it wants you to pay attention to something. You shouldn’t ignore it, but you shouldn’t fear it either. Often, pain just means that you may need to adjust or modify something. Once you understand what your pain is telling you, you can take appropriate action. This is one of the secrets to being able to continue with your favorite activities beyond your 50s. Learn to “talk” to your pain.
A medical professional told you to avoid certain activities
When we’re younger, we’re more likely to approach pain with a wait-and-see approach. But as we age, pain becomes a greater concern and we are more likely to seek professional medical help sooner. While this seems prudent, the problem is that there are many well-meaning medical professionals who are not always up to date with the latest research. The consequence? Mixed messages and “old school” advice for many of his patients.
For example, many physicians have come to rely on imaging (X-rays and MRIs) to base their diagnosis of musculoskeletal pain and subsequent treatment plan/recommendations. If your x-ray shows “bone-on-bone” arthritis, they start talking about joint replacements and/or tell you to stop doing any activity that could further “damage” your joint. But current research challenges this line of thinking, saying that 70-80% of all musculoskeletal problems (even when you’re over 50) can be resolved without a procedure or surgery. How your pain behaves is what matters most. Not your age, arthritis or pictures.
Here’s a real-life case study that illustrates what I’m talking about.
Not long ago, I met a 55-year-old woman (we’ll call her Kate) who had knee pain that interfered with her walking and running. His orthopedic surgeon told him that knee replacement was his only option, because of the “bone to bone” in the knee. When Kate questioned whether the knee replacement could wait, her doctor’s response was to reduce activity and stop running and hiking. But just because Kate’s x-ray showed osteoarthritis in her knee, doesn’t mean it’s the cause of her knee pain. Research tells us so. It’s entirely possible that Kate’s knee pain is due to something other than her bone-on-bone arthritis. Did he really need surgery? And did I really need to stop running and go hiking? If you underwent knee replacement without being sure if arthritis is really the main cause of your knee pain, you not only risk unnecessary surgery, but also set yourself back several months to recovery. .
First, inactivity is one of the worst things you can do for arthritis. People who stay active with weight-bearing activities are shown to have less arthritis than those who avoid doing things that stress their joints. Second, during Kate’s range of motion exam, we were able to quickly turn her knee pain off and back on. This means that your knee pain cannot be solely due to knee arthritis, because you cannot reverse bone-on-bone arthritis with movement, and certainly not that quickly. However, you can successfully fix a mechanical joint problem with movement, which is exactly what was happening. Mechanical problems in the spine or joints will not show up on the X-ray. So you don’t want to rely on imaging alone to make decisions about your pain, and you certainly don’t rely on imaging alone to decide whether or not to have surgery.
If you’re getting older, you know that age-related changes like arthritis are normal and nothing to be afraid of. Pain is also normal. It is an important signal that alerts us to take action. Doesn’t always equal damage. Be sure to educate yourself about these issues and ask more questions if you are told to stop an activity “just because” or if surgery is your only option because of an image.
Dr. Carrie Jose, physical therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch or request a free copy of his knee pain guide, email him at [email protected] or call 603-605-0402.