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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Baby Boomers and Joint Pain

Published October 16, 2015 1:09 PM by Debra Karplus

In the 1960s and ‘70s, a good number of baby boomers, post-war people born between the years 1946 and 1964, were rolling, lighting up, and passing around marijuana joints. (Just for the record, that activity was never part of my repertoire!) Now, forty or so years later, those same people are concerned about a different sort of joint, namely, their knees and hip joints. 

Many of my baby boomer peers are already on a new knee (or set of knees) or a new hip. I still have most of my original body parts, thankfully. Though, I certainly notice that my musculoskeletal system has been more vulnerable to aches and pains after performing simple daily tasks. Joint replacement is a surgery that's becoming more and more popular among people in their fifties and even in their forties. In the past, mostly people in their seventies and sometimes eighties were first-timers in the joint replacement arena.

Our skeletal system is simply not designed to last forever, and since people are living longer, bones wear away; spaces between bones, particularly in the spinal column, scrunch together and cause pain and immobility; fluids dry out and our bony framework changes shape, elasticity, and function. Boomers who have taken good care of themselves especially with a healthy diet and appropriate exercise are not immune to the deterioration of our musculoskeletal system.

But those who have exercised in a way that might have been too tough on the body, such as running on hard pavement, might actually be aggravating their bones and joints. There is much controversy out there regarding running as a sport regarding health and safety to our knees.

What about obesity? The Center for Disease Control ( in a June, 2015 report states that 35.1% of the population over age 20 can be labeled as obese. Obesity is a factor in numerous diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. Simply carrying all the extra weight around puts way too much stress on our bodies' systems, including our knee and hip joints. Put too much cargo in your vehicle's trunk and the car rides low; put too many heavy items in a box and the box will ultimately fall apart. The physics of our bodies' joints is really no different.

If you are working as an occupational therapy practitioner in a rehabilitation facility, it is likely that many of your patients are receiving your services because they have had hip or knee replacement surgery. It used to be that these people were geriatric patients, and retired from their jobs. But these days, you are likely to have younger patients who have jobs and need to be successful with their therapy in order to get back on the job. Some of these people may even still have children at home.

I would enjoy hearing from OT practitioners about their experiences working with some of these younger joint replacement patients. Specifically, how did your treatment plans differ from those with your geriatric clients?

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