Many seniors live with pain because they think they have to. In most cases, though, help is available.
“Oh, my aching… (fill in the body part).” Older people suffer more pain than other age groups. Many people live with it because they think nothing can be done. Disc disease in the lower back and arthritis in the joints are the most common causes of chronic (ongoing) pain in the elderly.
You don’t have to live with pain just because you’re old, though. Some seniors don’t want to be seen as complainers, so they don’t tell their doctors they’re in pain. Others fear that if they are given medication, they’ll become addicted. For these and other reasons, pain in the elderly is under-treated.
Living with pain
The longer you ignore pain, the harder it is to treat. That’s because fatigue, stress and weakness go along with pain. If you don’t treat pain, you can end up with even more discomfort. Your body can compensate for pain by placing stress on another joint.
Moreover, having chronic pain can put you at risk for other diseases, raise blood pressure, delay recovery from an illness or lead to depression. Indeed, pain is the number one cause of disability in the U.S.
When to see the doctor
See your doctor if:
- Your pain has lasted two months or more and over-the-counter pain relievers have not helped.
- Your pain is getting worse.
- Pain is disrupting your sleep.
- Other symptoms have developed
Many treatment options
One size does not fit all when it comes to treating pain. Your doctor may suggest exercise or physical therapy because an unconditioned body is more vulnerable to pain. Your doctor might also prescribe medication, or refer you to a pain management specialist, orthopedist or neurologist.
Acupuncture, relaxation techniques (e.g. massage or meditation) or hypnosis can relieve pain for some people. Counseling or support groups may help others cope with stress or depression, which could be adding to the pain.
Generally, the least invasive treatments are offered first. If the pain is stubborn, the next step might be Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). TENS sends a small electric current to nerves carrying pain signals. An injection of medication, a nerve block or a spinal cord implant are other options. Surgery is the last resort.
During treatment, your doctor may ask you to rate your pain on a scale from zero (no pain) to 10 (worst pain). This helps your doctor track your symptoms to see how you are responding to treatment.
Not all pain can be eliminated, but most pain can be managed more effectively under a doctor’s care. If pain is keeping you from enjoying life, don’t assume that nothing can be done. Ask your doctor about treatment options that are improving all the time.