RBR Reader Paul writes, “Any way of getting ride of some of those aches and pains associated with aging? I’m only 50 and it’s really starting to get to me. There’s no real pattern to the aches/pains. Sometimes more when I first awake, sometimes starts later in the day. Sometimes muscles, sometimes joints, probably more limbs than trunk. I’m a mailman, so I suspect it’s mostly from that. As a mailman I walk 8-10 miles a day, lugging around up to 50 pounds of mail on my hands, shoulders, and arms (often in rather awkward positions/postures), up and down God-only-knows how many hills/steps, wearing uncomfortable/ill-fitting “Postal Regulation” shoes. Is it possible it’s from some sort of allergy? I’ve tried some of those supplements — fish oil, turmeric, hemp oil — that supposedly help, but I seem to have more aches when taking those!”
Two weeks ago I wrote that needing more recovery is one of the surest signs of aging: How Much Recovery Do You Need? Another inevitable change with aging is that more things hurt. You have 50 years of wear and tear on your joints and muscles and I have almost 70 years. The ligaments and tendons that hold your joints together become stiff. Osteoarthritis can cause the cartilage in a joint to wear away. One can deal with these aches and pains two ways:
- Body maintenance
Let’s look at each of these.
You tried three different supplements.
1. Fish Oil
According to the Mayo Clinic “Studies suggest fish oil supplements might help reduce pain, improve morning stiffness and relieve joint tenderness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. While relief is often modest, it might be enough to reduce the need for anti-inflammatory medications.”
Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect your smaller joints first — particularly the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet. As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
From your symptoms you don’t have rheumatoid arthritis.
Eating fish and oil supplements can have an important role in preventing disease. They also reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, reduce high triglycerides and treat high blood pressure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Curcumin, a substance found in the spice turmeric, also may help reduce inflammation. Initial research seems to point to a benefit in people with some forms of chronic pain who use these supplements.”
3. Hemp Oil
There is less research on hemp oil. One study has been published by the National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine reviewed studies on the use of Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. The most promising is Sativex ® (GW Pharmaceuticals) a whole cannabis-based spray combining cannabidiol and THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Clinical trials have demonstrated the safety and efficacy for Sativex in managing central and peripheral neuropathic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer pain. It was approved by Health Canada in June 2005 for prescription for central neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis, and in August 2007, it was additionally approved for treatment of cancer pain unresponsive to optimized opioid therapy.
Note that all three supplements are for managing chronic pain, which is not your problem, so these supplements won’t help your aches and pains.
Anyone who wants to try one of these or other supplements should evaluate the product carefully as described in my column on The Importance of Evaluating Products Yourself rather than just relying on what is recommended on the web. After evaluating a supplement don’t start taking anything before you discuss it with your health care provider to make sure it’s right for your situation.
Trying to find the cause of a specific pain and addressing the cause is often more effective than taking a pill to mask the pain. Here are three examples.
A friend has a stiff and painful right hip and also a sore right foot as he walks. He walks a lot in his activities of daily living and loves walking and hiking for exercise. I encouraged him to see a health care professional. X-rays revealed no structural problems and the doctor referred him to a physical therapist. After examining him the PT decided that the hip joint wasn’t adequately lubricated with synovial fluid and that there were muscle imbalances. My friend compensated for these with how he walked, which generated the foot pain. The PT recommended riding the trainer for 15 minutes every morning in a low gear. (My friend isn’t a cyclist.) The motion stimulates the joint to produce synovial fluid. The PT also recommended specific exercises to address the muscle imbalances. When my friend rides the trainer and does the exercises in the morning he is generally pain-free for the rest of the day. The PT also recommended riding instead of walking for cardio and only hiking or XC skiing every other day.
The tibial plateau of my left knee was badly damaged when my knee was crushed by a truck. The result is significant chondromalacia, a condition where the cartilage on the undersurface of the patella (kneecap) deteriorates and softens. Direct pressure on the knee is painful and increases the deterioration. The more I bend my knee the greater the pressure on the patella. I saw Andy Pruitt (retired director of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.) He recommended not bending my knee more than 90 degrees and never kneeling. He also prescribed specific exercises to strengthen the quadriceps so that when the quads contract they lift the patella slightly to reduce the pressure.
I have a client who had chronic neck pain when riding and loves to do brevets of 125 to 1200 kilometers (125 to 750 miles) and the pain was limiting his ability to ride these. The cervical joints of the spine had degenerated and rubbed against each other causing pain. To protect against pain the cervical spine had stiffened so the joints didn’t move and cause pain. A PT worked with him for months to increase the flow of synovial fluid to lubricate the painful cervical joints and thus relieve the stiffness. My friend also learned to ride with a flat back so that he didn’t have to bend his neck as much to see down the road.
In each of these cases seeing a health care professional resulted in a diagnosis and exercises to reduce, even eliminate, the pain. Cutting back on exercise and spending time on body maintenance made the remaining exercise pain-free!
You wrote, “I’m a mailman, so I suspect it’s mostly from that.” Walking while carrying a 50 lb. awkward load up and down stairs and hills is putting a lot of abnormal asymmetrical strain on your body. See a health care professional to check that nothing structural is wrong. Then a physical therapist can evaluate you and give you specific exercises to compensate for the strains that work is inflicting on your body.
My new eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes information specifically for older cyclists on exercises to improve muscle balance and increase flexibility, both of which are important aspects of body maintenance. The 106-page eBook is available for $14.99.