BOOMER aches & pains.

They don't have to give up their athletic activities

The last thing Manuela Canada, 56, wanted to hear from her doctor was that knee problems would mean the end of tennis.

Fortunately, "don't do it if it hurts" is last on the list of advice sports-medicine physician John Kearney would give to the Phoenix woman. Nor would he give it to Mike Riggs, 49, of Phoenix, whose pain threatened to keep him off the golf course.

"A lot of patients think they have to rest if something hurts," says Kearney, of the CORE Institute (Center for Orthopedic Research and Education) in Sun City. "But often it's just the opposite, even with knee arthritis. The more you exercise -- in the right way -- the better your symptoms become. That's very counterintuitive to most people."

With new treatments and new attitudes about remaining active in the face of physical setbacks, staying fit in your 40s and beyond needn't be a pain. Instead of throwing in the towel, you may be able to set things right by easing off a little, modifying routines and practicing preventive measures.

That's welcome news for Boomers who exercise to bolster health and slow aging, only to find themselves with joint injuries from their shoulders to their feet. Orthopedic surgeon Nicholas DiNubile of the University of Pennsylvania Health System coined and trademarked the term "boomeritis" when he noted a surge in such injuries in people born between 1946 and 1964.

Arlene Polakof, a podiatrist and medical director of specialty care for Cigna Medical Group in Phoenix, says she knows what's behind the surge. She sees it in some of the 40-and-older patients who show up in her office complaining of foot or ankle pain.

"People who are no longer very athletic dig an old pair of shoes out of the back of their closet," she says. "The shoes may not fit anymore, or they may be worn out. Then they go out and try to cram several years' worth of athletic activity into a short period of time."

The result often can be an ankle sprain, strain or fracture. It also could be plantar fasciitis or a stress fracture in the foot.

Kearney commonly treats sedentary Boomers who experience pain during normal activity and active Boomers suffering from overuse of their shoulders and knees.

"A lot of them are starting to retire and have newfound freedom to pursue hobbies and passions," he says. "They go from not doing anything to going at warp speed."

Canada, who has had mild rheumatoid arthritis for years and has begun showing signs of osteoarthritis, developed a swollen, painful knee after she participated in an intensive tennis clinic recently. She has played the game since she was 34 and dreaded having to give it up.

"Playing tennis socially has been the healthiest thing I've done for myself," Canada says.

Until pain in his hips and back made taking breaks increasingly necessary, Riggs stayed fit with golf, yard work and fix-it projects.

"I push myself," he says. "I don't think of myself as 49, and therefore I tend to do things that are not 49-year-old things."

But with physical therapy, Riggs can be a 49-year-old who plays golf pain-free, and Canada can continue playing tennis for years to come on knees that are stronger than ever, Kearney says. Joints work better when the muscles surrounding them are strengthened, he says, and exercise usually is enough to accomplish that.

Kearney says treatments such as patches that increase blood flow to the affected tissues and injections that stimulate tissue growth also are helping patients.

Brian Gruber, an orthopedic surgeon at the CORE Institute's Paradise Valley clinic, tells patients they don't have to resign themselves to the physical limitations posed by aging.

"The tissues start to degenerate a little bit and become maybe a little more susceptible as we age, but an active lifestyle keeps us healthy," he says.

From weight management to steroid injections, much can be done to prevent boomeritis and to treat it without surgery, if preventive measures fail, Gruber says. He wouldn't dissuade people from participating in activities they love.

"If your quality of life depends on being able to run, then we work with it," Gruber says. "Getting people back to doing what they like to do is important."
Christine Keith / Gannett Newspapers

Sports-medicine physician John Kearney evalutes patient Mike Riggs at the Center for Orthopedic Research and Education Institute in Sun City, Ariz. With new treatments and new attitudes about remaining active in the face of physical setbacks, staying fit in your 40s and beyond needn't be a pain.

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