Your knees, shoulders, and elbows are all large joints. Your hands and feet contain many tiny joints. Our joints are used for almost every movement we make. Half of adults over age 65 - or more than 20 million Americans, endure recurrent or chronic joint pain, stiffness, and sometimes swelling. Joint pain can be so severe that ordinary daily activities of sufferers, such as eating a bowl of cereal or washing one's hair, become difficult or even impossible.
For many years, treatment options for joint pain relief were limited to two types of medications: acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Both are effective treatments for mild joint pain, and the latter reduces joint inflammation too.
Recent medical studies show that sufferers themselves can greatly improve their condition through exercise. Exercise builds strength and flexibility, and toning the muscles that surround the joint helps to stabilize it. Exercise can reduce stiffness, increase blood flow, and aid in weight loss, which takes the stress off of joints. Patients should determine a safe level of exercise with their doctor, and together develop a routine individually tailored to provide the optimum benefit to the sufferer.
Heating pads, ice packs and topical creams, rubs, and sprays provide short-term joint pain relief. For persistent, chronic joint pain, injections of the steroid glucocorticoid can provide relief for about three weeks, and injections of hyaluronic acid, a substance naturally present in joints, can last up to a year.
Surgery may be necessary for patients with debilitating joint pain. Surgeons may elect to realign the joint or completely replace the damaged joint with an artificial one. Total joint replacement can bring dramatic joint pain relief for many patients.
Natural supplements such as glucosamine (derived from crustaceans' shells) and chodroitin (a part of connective tissue from cow tracheas) may help alleviate joint pain as well. Alternative treatments like supplements and acupuncture have become increasingly popular in recent years, so much so that the National Insitute of Health is currently conducting research on both to determine the effect they have on joint pain relief. Results of this research may validate supporters' claims or even alter the prescribed course of treatment.