Your Anti-Aches & Pains Guide

Habits -- both good and bad -- that you practice now have an enormous impact on whether you'll develop painful arthritis later. Plus, new ways to ease the pain.
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Aging and Illnesses

When Antoinette Katora goes to the store, she parks in the spot reserved for the handicapped -- something she never imagined having to do at age 46. She enjoyed playing basketball in high school and until recently was an avid gardener. After suffering two bad falls while shooting hoops in her teens, Katora began to feel a constant cracking in her knees but ignored it. Kneeling in her garden hurt, too, but "when you're young, you just grin and bear it," she says.

For years Katora continued to put stress on her knees, wearing three-inch heels every day to work as a systems analyst on Wall Street. Her pain worsened during her pregnancy, in 1996, when she gained 50 pounds. She began to suffer from severe back pain after being injured in a traffic accident later that year. Unable to commute into the city, she had to transfer to her firm's New Jersey office near her East Brunswick home.

When Katora finally saw a rheumatologist, at age 40, she learned she had osteoarthritis in her knees, back, and feet. "I feel cheated," she says. "I can't even play with my 8-year-old daughter, because if I sit on the floor, I can't get up." Katora wishes she had paid closer attention to those early aches. "Arthritis sneaks up on you. You don't notice the symptoms at first. They're just an annoyance. Then, all of a sudden, you can't do the things you used to do."

An estimated 21 million Americans have osteoarthritis, which affects more women than men. While the degenerative joint disease is most common after age 65, younger women aren't immune. Thirty-four percent of women ages 45 through 64 and nearly 9 percent of women ages 15 through 46 have osteoarthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And now because pain-relief options may be dwindling -- the drug Vioxx was recalled last fall for its role in raising heart attack risk, and similar questions are swirling around two other prescription painkillers, Celebrex and Bextra -- it pays to take preventive steps. But if you already suffer the telltale pain and stiffness of arthritis, there are new, safe remedies that can help you get moving again.

Continued on page 2:  Are You at Risk?


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