As people grow older, their muscles, bones and joints weaken and cause many seniors to have achy joints, stiff muscles or brittle bones.
Over time these musculoskeletal problems can change from minor discomforts to chronic illnesses.
"In terms of musculoskeletal conditions that affect African-Americans as they grow older, I would rank arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, as No. 1," says Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., of the disease that causes bones and cartilage to deteriorate and triggers pain when bones rub together.
Other problems are caused by overuse injuries, such as sprains or strains, or osteoporosis, a major bone problem of the elderly, explains Laurencin, who is a shoulder and knee orthopaedic specialist, Lillian T. Pratt distinguished professor of orthopaedic surgery and chairman of the department of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
If left untreated or undiagnosed, these conditions can have a serious impact on a person's quality of life.
"In terms of osteoarthritis, the burden of the disease is very high in terms of morbidity, loss of function and lost work," says Laurencin.
When it comes to osteoporosis, which usually goes undiagnosed until a fracture occurs, most serious problems occur due to severe hip fractures, adds Laurencin, who says that between 80 to 90 percent of Blacks above age 60 have low bone mass.
"One in five will die in the first year of fracture, despite having adequate treatment," Laurencin says.
Nevertheless, there are many remedies that can help minimize problems associated with bone and joint conditions. The first step is visiting a physician. Before recommending surgery, a physician might recommend taking calcium, pain relievers, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, or engaging in physical activity.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) reports that exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility and muscle strength. Muscle strength is important because it helps reduce risks of injury. Laurencin agrees.
"Everyone should exercise," he says, explaining that people should exercise between 30 to 60 minutes per day. This includes simple activities such as going for a walk or taking a bicycle ride.
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