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Boomeritis: Orthopaedic Ailments Impact the Baby Boomer Generation

Leave it to a generation that has changed the way things are done to create a new medical condition worthy of bearing its name.

"Boomeritis," a term coined in 1999 by Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, describes a broad range of bone and joint ailments that affect men and women born after 1945 — that aging cohort known as the Baby Boom generation. Boomeritis encompasses a number of common orthopedic problems that accompany aging, including tendonitis, bursitis and arthritis.

"By being more active — and being active later — we're encountering a whole set of medical and musculoskeletal conditions in a group of patients that haven't existed before," says Dr. Arun J. Ramappa, an orthopaedic surgeon and Chief of the Division of Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The challenge facing boomers, and their physicians, is "to come up with ways to keep people as active as possible, regardless of their age," Ramappa says. "The actual numerical age doesn't mean much to us. What's more important is how active people want to be and their state of mind."

Part of the challenge for boomers is a redefinition of physical fitness and activity beyond the long-recognized need for good aerobic exercise that raises a person's heart rate. The natural wear and tear of aging is particularly tough on bones and joints.

"We are made of mechanical parts and unfortunately things wear down," says Ramappa. "Just as you treat your car right, if you don't do the same thing for your body, parts are going to wear down more quickly."

Ramappa suggests that boomers hoping to remain active need to supplement a three-day-a week, 45-minute cardiovascular exercise regimen with a 20-minute regimen of weight lifting and muscle "stressing," as well as a daily program of stretching the knees, shoulders and back.

"Maintain good flexibility of joints, maintain good strength and stay light," he says. "If you adhere to those things you are going to be able to tackle many issues."

A good workout is also essential to maintain bone mass, in both men and women, to counteract a natural phenomenon that begins when a person is in their 20s.

"One way to maintain bone mass is by exercise. People are predisposed to fracture as they age, including fractures around the hip, the wrist and shoulder," he says.

But what if you can't prevent the inevitable?

Ramappa believes there are several good options for people dealing with injuries or the deterioration caused by time. The most common problems are tendonitis, an inflammation of the structures that connect the muscles to the bones; bursitis, inflammation of the liquid-filled sacs that allow for frictionless movement between surfaces such as elbows; and arthritis, which is an inflammation that takes a variety of forms around joints such as elbows, knees, hips and shoulders.

"A good physical therapist is critical because they can help you avoid surgery," particularly with shoulder injuries, he says.

In terms of pain management, Ramappa says non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as Motrin and Advil can be beneficial, as can corticosteroid injections.

If surgery is necessary, there are a number of options including arthroscopy, where a camera can guide a surgeon to find and remove trouble spots in knees, elbows and the shoulder's rotator cuff. And, joint replacement surgery remains an ever-growing option.


"The baby boom generation has been pushing limits of all sorts, but now they have decided they want to be active for longer," says Ramappa.

While medical and surgical options exist to help boomers cope with those limits, he cautions, "we need to control expectations too. Eventually you are going to have to say 'I can't do this anymore.' Some of us have a hard time wrapping our heads around this."

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted May 2016

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