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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Elderly Joint Pain

January 2000

Q. My grandmother is complaining of joint pain. What causes this and why is it so common in the elderly?

A. A joint is where two bones come together. For example, the thigh bone meets with the bones of the lower leg at the knee. Within the joint is a substance called cartilage that is sort of like a Teflon coating that allows the bones to slide back and forth across each other as the joint is used. With age, this cartilage begins to wear down (a process known as osteoarthritis), and there is resulting pain. It happens more often in the elderly because their joints have been used for a longer period of time, thus allowing for more of the cartilage to be worn down.

Not much can be done to repair or replace the cartilage, though some recent work suggests that there may be some new remedies. Pain medicines, such as Tylenol, aspirin, or other non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen, can be helpful to control the symptoms. You can learn more about osteoarthritis at: http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/HealthGazette/osteo.html and http://www.ama-assn.org/insight/spec_con/arthriti/arthriti.htm.

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