Art of Aging: Joint problems in women

We think shoulder injuries are for baseball or football players, but they're actually more common in women, especially those over 40-years-of-age.

When Mary Conti of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania is not at her nursing job, she loves being with her grandchildren.

Last year, however, raising, twisting, or lifting with her right arm left Conti nearly dizzy from pain.

"I almost felt like there was a knife in my shoulder," said Conti.

Dr. Charles Getz of Riddle Memorial Hospital Main Line Health, says, "The rotator cuff is four muscles that live really deep on the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff attaches all the way on the top two-thirds, three-quarters of the arm."

"When you bring your arm up away from your body and use your hand in space, those muscles have to work together," Dr. Getz continued.

"They do a couple of other functions, like rotating the arm," he adds.

The rotator cuff muscles keep the ball and socket of the shoulder together, but over time, they can wear out.

Construction workers, house painters, baggage handlers are among those with a higher risk.

Moms also put years of stress on their shoulders.

Dr. Getz says 90% of the time, physical therapy, ice, heat, and medications relieve the problem. But sometimes, as in Mary Conti's case, surgery is needed.

Using anchors and sutures, Dr. Getz put Conti's muscles back in place with a minimally invasive arthroscopic technique. The recovery takes patience.

Patients spend about a month in a sling before starting physical therapy.

With a broad smile, Conti remembers her turning point.

She says, "2 months out when I could blow dry my hair."

And, six months later, she's back having fun with the grand-kids.

"It's nice to be able to wake up without any pain," said Conti.

Dr. Getz says to prevent rotator cuff wear & tear, do a lot of stretching to keep your shoulder flexible.

Also, use good body mechanics when you are lifting and carrying - square your body up to the item to be lifted, don't try to lift them across your body or in an awkward position, and don't lift objects that are too heavy for you, especially over your head.

Dr. Getz also says staying active consistently, avoiding long layoff periods, or falling into a "weekend warrior" pattern, can head off injuries.

And don't keep your arms out to the side or raised over your head for long periods of time.

Exercises which strengthen the back of the shoulder and around the shoulder blade also help.

For more tips on making the most out of your years, go to 6abc's Art of Aging section.
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