Unfortunately, pain often goes hand in hand with aging, and as you grow older, it can become chronic. Pain is highly prevalent in seasoned folks: nearly 5 million people aged 65 and over are in some degree of pain or discomfort. Pain can severely impact the quality of life of an older person, their family, friends, and caregivers. It can also vary in duration, intensity, and effects, as well as in origin and cause.
Treating or managing pain is vital. Some folks need meds, and others do not. Every treatment plan should be specific to an individual’s needs. A doctor will typically prescribe a treatment plan that will center on reducing pain so that a person can continue to go on about their lives.
Pain management practitioners
Many people seek pain management from their primary care physicians. There are, however, pain management specialists—a doctor, nurse, or anesthesiologist. These specialists have specialized training in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of a spectrum of pain from acute, chronic, to cancer pain, and sometimes a combination of all. They have an in-depth knowledge of the physiology of pain, the ability to evaluate patients with complicated pain problems, and an understanding of specialized tests for diagnosing painful conditions and can prescribe the meds that will help to alleviate. These practitioners also possess the skills to perform such pain interventional techniques as nerve blocks, spinal injections, and other helpful procedures.
Pain management specialists also have an important role in coordinating additional care such as physical therapy, psychological therapy, and rehabilitation programs in order to offer patients a comprehensive treatment plan with a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of their pain. Your internist can refer you to a pain management practitioner.
Palliative care specialists
For those who are suffering with more serious health issues like cancer or Parkinson’s, a palliative care specialist should be brought onboard. This is a medical subspecialty provided by doctors who look to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life for people of any age and at any stage in a serious illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic, or life-threatening. Again, a primary care doctor can provide a referral.
The first line of treatment for pain management is usually medications.
Acetaminophen—like Tylenol are OTC and taken to treat mild to moderate pain; folks who have more than three alcoholic drinks per day, or who have liver issues should steer clear of this med
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—OTC drugs include aspirin, naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Motrin); long term use of these meds can lead to kidney problems or internal bleeding
Opioids—codeine, morphine and oxycodone, prescribed for moderate to severe pain; can be habit-forming, dangerous when combined with alcohol
Other meds—antidepressants, anticonvulsants, local painkillers like nerve blocks, patches, ointments, creams
If you do not get relief from your recommended drug, speak to your health care provider about trying another; do not stop taking prescriptions on your own!
Becoming addicted to prescription pain medicine can happen to anyone, including older adults. If you think you are getting hooked on your pain med, discuss the issue with your doctor immediately!
Alternative and complementary pain treatments
Drugs aren’t always the answer when managing pain. Many have turned to alternative and complementary approaches to find relief for their discomfort. Sometimes doctors have to go the treatment, coupled with drugs route, in order to obtain relief for their patients.
Acupuncture—fine needles are applied to the skin on specific areas to bring about pain relief
Biofeedback—a mind over matter technique; a type of therapy that uses sensors attached to your body to measure key body function; it is intended to help you learn more about how your body works; helps you to develop better control over certain body functions and address health concerns
Cognitive behavioral therapy—a form of short-term counseling that may help reduce your reaction to pain
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)— involves the use of low-voltage electric currents to treat pain. A small device delivers the current at or near nerves. TENS therapy blocks or changes your perception of pain
Guided imagery—a form of self-hypnosis or meditation that involves all of the senses and not just the visual to focus your imagination to create calm, peaceful images in your mind, thereby providing a “mental escape”
Massage therapy—is the manipulation of soft tissues — muscle, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments and skin — using varying degrees of pressure and movement to relieve pain, reduce stress and increase relaxation
Mind-body stress reduction—utilizes relaxation techniques like meditation, tai chi, and yoga to reduce stress, pain, anxiety and depression
Physical therapy–utilizes various techniques to help manage daily activities with less pain while helping to improve flexibility and strength
End of life pain management
When someone is nearing the end of their life, they might be in pain or feel no discomfort at all. Clinicians all agree that it is best to just focus on making the individual comfortable without worrying about possible drug addiction to pain medications.
The bottom line about pain
Pain is that it is NOT “all in your head.” Only YOU know the intensity of your pain. If you’re in pain, discuss your feelings honestly with your doctor.
For more information on pain management contact:
American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
P.O. Box 850
Rocklin, CA 95677-0850Ph. 800-533-3231
American Academy of Pain Medicine
8735 W. Higgins Road, Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60631
7371 E Tanque Verde Rd
Tucson, AZ 85715
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6116 Executive Boulevard, Ste. 3036A, MSC 8322
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322
Ph. 800-4-CANCER (422-6237); 800-332-8615 (TTY)