beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

To find a doctor, call 800-667-5356 or click below:

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

left banner
right banner
Smaller Larger

Boomer Fitness

Boomeritis: Orthopaedic Ailments Impacting Baby Boomer Generation

By Jerry Berger
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Staff

Baby boomers playing golfLeave 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 by Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, in 1999, 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 tendonitisbursitis 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 Ramappa, an orthopaedic surgeon and  sports medicine specialist 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. 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," Ramappa said.

Part of the challenge for boomers is a redefinition of physical fitness and activity beyond the long-recognized need for good aerobic exercise that raise 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 things are going to wear down more quickly."

Physical therapists Marilyn Moffat of New York University and Carole B. Lewis of Washington, D.C., offer a quick quiz to help you gauge whether you need "repairs."

  • Are you not standing as straight and tall as you once did?
  • Is walking up a flight of stairs a strain at times?
  • Are you getting up from a chair more slowly than you used to?
  • Is it getting harder to look to the left and right while backing up?
  • Do you get stiff sitting through a long movie?
  • Is standing on one leg to put on your shoe difficult or impossible?
  • Do you trip or lose your balance more easily?
  • Does walking or jogging a distance take longer than it used to?

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.

Despite some recent reports to the contrary, Ramappa believes glucosamine and chondroitin - a naturally occurring amino acid and protein, respectively, available through dietary supplements, can provide relief, particularly for  osteoarthritis of the knee.

"I wouldn't give up hope on that yet," he says.

There are also alternatives such as visco-supplementation - an injection of material with properties similar to healthy human synovial fluid which protects and lubricates the joints. It helps rehydrate the cartilage, gives a more shock absorbing effect and relieves pain.

Lastly, there are surgical procedures, from 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 March 2011

Contact Information

Carl J. Shapiro Department of Orthopaedics
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215