We face many health issues as we age, but one of the most problematic is pain. Most people expect more pain as we age, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between normal aches and something that requires a doctor’s attention. The good news is that almost all Americans 65 years or older have Medicare or Medicaid insurance plans which allow them to see a physician.
Pain is a very common feature of aging. One study by the National Institutes of Health found that 53 percent of seniors had pain in the past month. More than 75 percent of these respondents had pain in more than one location. Many of these seniors are able to self-medicate with over-the-counter medications or obtain treatment from a medical professional. Others have difficulty obtaining treatment due to physical or cognitive impairments.
Phenomenon of Pain in Seniors
Although pain is widely reported among the elderly population, you should understand that no amount of pain is normal. There is a distinction between incidental pain and pain that requires medical intervention. Prior to seeing a physician you should consider the following points recommended by the National Institute of Aging:
- Where is the pain located?
- Is the pain intermittent?
- What is the nature of the pain? Is it sharp, burning or overwhelming?
- Does the pain appear at certain times of the day or during some activities?
- Can you manage the pain with home remedies like heat, cold or OTC drugs?
- Do you have other chronic health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure?
Of course, it is best to visit a physician about all pain symptoms, but you should make it a priority if the pain is new. Not only could this signal a new health issue, but it is better to begin treatment of a health condition as early as possible.
Home Pain Treatments for Seniors
If your physician diagnoses your pain as a minor health condition, he or she may recommend that you try one of the following home treatments:
- Heat or cold—in many cases, minor pain will respond to the application of ice or heat. If you choose to ice an area, only do it for 20 minutes or less; more than that and you could damage your tissue. Heat is also an important therapy because it improves blood circulation which delivers more oxygen and nutrients to damaged areas and speeds healing.
- OTC medications—if your doctor approves of over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, then you should only take them as directed. Do not take these if you habitually drink alcohol, suffer from liver disease or have bleeding health issues.
- Mindful meditation—many people who engage in mindful meditation have experienced significant reductions in pain symptoms. This is a low-risk therapy that may prove quite effective for you if you suffer from chronic pain. Your physician may recommend it early on in your treatment.
- Regular exercise—it may be difficult to do physical exercise if you are in pain, but numerous studies show that exercise is a powerful way to limit pain and prevent bodily deterioration. Discuss any new fitness routine with your doctor to avoid any further injury.
- Healthy diet—eating a high salt, high fat diet may be contributing to your pain symptoms. Instead of processed foods, eat as natural as possible. You may also want to include foods high in fish oil—an anti-inflammatory—and resveratrol which helps modulate pain. The spice turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce pain.
- Quell—this is a relatively new product that produces a low-level current. It applies the current to the skin to interrupt pain impulses. Because it only costs a few dollars and has almost no risks, more physicians are recommending this; it may not work for you, but it is probably worth a try.
Robust Pain Therapies
If your pain doesn’t respond to home remedies, then your physician may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Physical therapy—this involves working with a physical therapist to develop a personalized treatment plan that may include exercise, massage or electrical nerve stimulation.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy—this is a form of counseling that trains you to respond appropriately to pain. This therapy will assist in reducing stress and anxiety, common features that accompany pain and intensify it.
- Acupuncture—although this therapy has been in use for centuries, it has only recently gained standing in modern medicine. Acupuncture may not work for all pain patients, but it carries minimal risk so should be tried if possible.
- Opioid medications—many pain sufferers expect their physician to immediately prescribe a powerful pain killer, but more physicians are using risky opioid drugs as a final option. Even when opioids are prescribed, they should only be used as directed and for short periods of time.
Intensive Pain Treatment Options
If you suffer from chronic or extremely intense pain, then medical intervention may be required.
- Trigger point injections—used to treat intense muscle pain, a trigger point injection places an anesthetic along with a steroid in a muscle knot to soothe pain.
- Spinal cord stimulation implant—for people with unrelenting back or limb pain, a spinal implant that blocks pain signals may prove effective. The implant delivers a low-level electrical impulse to the spinal cord to disrupt nerve transmission.
- Radiofrequency rhizotomy—if your pain is localized to a single nerve or set of nerves, then this procedure may mitigate your pain symptoms. Using x-ray guidance, an electrode is applied to the nerve, destroying it. This therapy provides relief for six to twelve months.
- Intrathecal pump plants—used primarily for cancer patients, these surgically implanted devices regularly release pain killers into affected areas. This offers more reliable pain relief, but this method is typically only used when all other therapies prove ineffective.
- Nerve block—this procedure may involve an injection an incision into the nerve to prevent the transmission of pain signals.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
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