In Your 40s and 50s

Pain problem: Arthritis and Back Trouble

"This is [the age] when osteoarthritis and degenerative disk disease commonly begin to show themselves," Moon says.

Degenerative disc disease causes the disks -- which act as shock absorbers for the spine and allow it to flex, bend, and twist -- to dry out and become brittle. This can cause pain, limit range of motion, and irritate muscles or tendons. Chronic back or neck pain, as well as pain in the hands, knees, and hips may also begin during these years.

The two most likely groups of people to experience arthritis pain at this age are the very fit who injure themselves in midlife by overdoing exercise, and "those who do nothing to keep their bodies fit," Dubois says.

A total lack of exercise can cause stiff joints, shoulder pain, and hip pain.

The fix: Take a conservative approach to treatment.

When it comes to treating short-term joint and lower back pain, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may help, but people often make the mistake of giving up too quickly, Moon says.

"It may take 10-14 days of regular dosing for the full anti-inflammatory benefit [from NSAIDs] to kick in. Often, people abandon them too early," Moon says. The same is true of prescription medications with side effects that cause people to stop taking them before they have a chance to make a difference.

When dealing with chronic back pain, many people in the U.S. rush too quickly to surgery, Dubois says.

"People think that something is mechanically wrong and [that the back] should be fixed like a car," he says. But it's not that easy; the back pain often returns, worse than before, after two years, Dubois says. "It's not the miracle cure."

He suggests trying physical therapy, spinal and muscle injections of corticosteroids (which reduce inflammation), local anesthetics, or a combination of both to relieve pain. Acupuncture has also been shown to be very effective. He encourages people to be persistent and try various treatments until they get some relief.

Fix: Develop strength and balance.

Strengthening your core muscles, which include your abs, is also important for low back pain. Your lower back is better supported when your abdominal muscles are strong.

Also work on strengthening the quadriceps muscles -- which are between your hip and knee cap on the front of your upper leg -- during your 40s and 50s.

"I think quad strengthening helps in fall prevention. It helps people who have back pain to learn to use their legs more so they don't have to use their back so much. It helps prevent knee pain as well," Moon says.

And if you haven't already started working on your balance, now is the time, because as you age, you're more likely to fall. Moon recommends the martial arts Tai Chi or Qigong to strengthen the quadriceps and improve balance. These practices involve meditation, slow graceful movements, and controlled breathing.

In Your 60s, 70s, and Beyond

In your 60s, 70s, and beyond, arthritis and degenerative spinal disc disease become more common and can become a significant source of pain. Again, medications and holistic treatments such as acupuncture and yoga can be very helpful.

Broken bones from falls become a greater concern, as does pain associated with diseases such as cancer.  With serious medical conditions, sometimes pain isn't prioritized because the focus is on the disease.

That's a mistake. "If pain stays too long in a cancer patient, it by itself can become a major aspect of the disease," Dubois says. Not addressing pain also hampers quality of life.

The fix: Make pain care a priority.

Pain that keeps you awake at night and impacts social and family life often causes a patient's condition to worsen quickly, which is why it must receive its own treatment so it doesn't take over your life.

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD