September 22, 2022 by John Fernandez
Factors Affecting Joint Pain at Any Age: Body Weight, Injury, Levels of Activity and Genetics
Chronic joint pain can happen at any age, although it is more common as you get older — possibly made worse by arthritis. The complex joints connecting the discs of the spine comprise the most common complaints — lower back pain — followed by knee pain.
“Joints are really the foundation for motion, and there are layers and layers of tissue on top of the joints, like muscles and tendons, that actually provide the movement,” explains Charles M. Lawrie, M.D., a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.
Dr. Lawrie, who specializes in adult hip and knee joint replacement surgery, discussed joint pain in the latest episode of Baptist HealthTalk. The podcast is hosted by Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., chief population health officer for Baptist Health and chief of cardiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.
“There are more than 200 joints in the human body, but chances are we take them for granted until we experience swelling, stiffness or pain,” said Dr. Fialkow as he introduces Dr. Lawrie. “So, is it inevitable, and what can we do to keep our joints as healthy as possible for as long as possible?”
An individual cannot control genetics, which is a risk factor for issues with joints and surrounding tendons and muscles, including different levels of arthritis. But there are lifestyle factors that can be modified, including weight management and staying physical fit by taking part in a range of activities or regular exercise.
“One major factor that we do have control over, I would say, is weight,” said Dr. Lawrie. “And we all know that we have an obesity epidemic in the U.S. The knee, for example, takes every pound of body weight that people are carrying around in simple daily activities, like walking or going up and downstairs. Our body weight actually will go through the knees.”
Here are question-and-answer excerpts from the Baptist Healthtalk podcast. You can hear the full podcast here:
Dr. Fialkow: What are the joints that people complain about more commonly than others?
“The most common area that people complain about or have problems with during their life is the lower back. Just about anyone you know, any age beyond teenagers, has had an episode of back pain that usually is laid them up from work or from school. And the back is actually more complex. And it’s comprised of many, many joints. Different bones at different levels of the back connect together through the discs. So, the back I would say is No. 1.
“Beyond the back, the knee is actually the second most common joint of the body that typically gets affected. We’re all very active. We’re on our feet all day. We like to run, we like to jump, play sports, and the knees tend to get a lot of the force going through them, and get beat up quite a bit over the course of our life. Other things we commonly see would be the shoulder joints, the hip joints, and then less commonly you get into the smaller joints, like ankles, wrists, hands, toes.”
Dr. Fialkow: What kind of lifestyle or what kind of situations might increase the risk joint pain? And … what can one do to decrease the chances of significant degenerative joint disease, if anything?
“Unfortunately, a lot of the degenerative joint disease causes are kind of unknown or multifactorial. So, there’s a variety of different factors that go into the actual finished product, which is arthritis. Things that are controllable are injuries and activity level. When we’re younger, avoiding really extreme activity, extreme heavy weights in the gym, and avoiding injury when playing sports. This can all help increase the longevity of our joints as we get older. Also, doing varied levels of activity. We all tend to find one thing we enjoy and then we only do that one thing. So, some people, run, run, run, run, run, and then they show up with some joint pain because they haven’t varied their activities.
“But unfortunately, like I said, a lot of this is just bad luck. To be honest, things that are out of our control, like the genetic makeup of our cartilage surfaces, the joint surface, the way that our bones and joints developed, so the different angles that our bones developed as they were forming against each other can affect the risk for arthritis.”
Dr. Fialkow: Is there any recommendations you would have as an orthopedic specialist as to how to decreasing the chances of injuries?
“People in their 20s, 30s, 40s, who typically show up with injuries, or what we dub the weekend warriors, really aren’t very active during the week and then they go out on the weekends. And all of a sudden, they expect to go from zero to a 100 and their muscles just really aren’t ready to accommodate the types of activities they’re trying to get into.
“So, the strategy for injury prevention for the majority of us in our 30s, 40s, 50s who still like to get out there and play sports or be active is to really focus on a variety of activities, a variety of exercise — total body strengthening. And make sure there aren’t any particular deficiencies in any one area, and really making sure that you appropriately ramp up your activity level before you try to jump into something.”