You’ve probably been in pain at one time or another. Maybe you’ve had a headache or bruise—pain that doesn’t last too long. But, many older people have ongoing pain from health problems like arthritis, diabetes, shingles, or cancer.
Pain can be your body’s way of warning you that something is wrong. Always tell the doctor where you hurt and exactly how it feels.
Acute Pain and Chronic Pain
There are two kinds of pain. Acute pain begins suddenly, lasts for a short time, and goes away as your body heals. You might feel acute pain after surgery or if you have a broken bone, infected tooth, or kidney stone.
Pain that lasts for 3 months or longer is called chronic pain. This often affects older people. For some people, chronic pain is caused by a health condition such as arthritis. It may also follow acute pain from an injury, surgery, or another health issue that has been treated, like post-herpetic neuralgia after shingles.
Living with any type of pain can be hard. It can cause many other problems. For instance, it can:
- Get in the way of your daily activities
- Disturb your sleep and eating habits
- Make it difficult to continue working
- Be related to depression or anxiety
- Keep you from spending time with friends and family
Explaining to pain management physicians how you feel
Think about these questions when you explain how it feels:
- Where does it hurt?
- When did it start? Does it come and go?
- What does it feel like? Is it sharp, dull, or burning? Would you use some other word to describe it?
- Do you have other symptoms?
- When do you feel it the most? In the morning? In the evening? After eating?
Is there anything you do that makes it feel better or worse? For example, does the use of a heating pad or ice pack help? Does changing your position from lying down to sitting up to make it better? What medicines, including over-the-counter medications and non-medicine therapies have you tried, and what was their effect?
Your doctor or nurse may ask you to rate your symptoms on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being none and 10 being the worst you can imagine. Or pain management physicians ask if it is mild, moderate, or severe. Some doctors or nurses have pictures of faces that show different expressions of it and ask you to point to the face that shows how you feel. Your doctor may ask you to keep a diary of when and what kind of symptoms you feel every day.
be open about how you feel
Everyone reacts to pain differently. Some people feel they should be brave and not complain when they hurt. Other people are quick to report and ask for help.
Worrying about how you feel is common. This worry can make you afraid to stay active, and it can separate you from your friends and family. Working with your doctor, you can find ways to continue to take part in physical and social activities despite your ailments.
Some people put off going to the doctor because they think it is part of aging and nothing can help. This is not true! Finding a way to manage pain is often easier if it is addressed early.
Ways to Treat how you Physical feel
Treating, or managing, chronic pain is important. Some treatments involve medications, and some do not. Your treatment plan should be specific to your needs.
Most treatment plans focus on both reducing and increasing ways to support daily function while living in what can feel like constant agony.
Talk with your doctor about how long it may take before you feel better. Often, you have to stick with a treatment plan before you get relief. It’s important to stay on a schedule. Sometimes this is called “staying ahead” or “keeping on top” of . Be sure to tell your doctor about any side effects. You might have to try different treatments until you find a plan that works for you. As your it lessens, you can likely become more active and will see your mood lift and sleep improve.
How pain management physicians help
Some doctors receive extra training in pain management. If you find that your regular doctor can’t help you, ask him or her for the name of a pain medicine specialist. A chronic health specialist may be a doctor, nurse, or anesthesiologist.
If you or a loved one is managing pains from cancer or other serious illness, ask to be seen by a palliative care specialist. These specialists are trained to manage pain and other symptoms for people with serious illnesses.
Medicines to Treat Pain
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following pain medications. Talk with your doctor about their safety and the right dose to take.
Acetaminophen may help all types of pain, especially mild to moderate. Acetaminophen is found in over-the-counter and prescription medicines. People who have more than three drinks per day or who have liver disease should not take acetaminophen.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. Long-term use of some NSAIDs can cause side effects, like internal bleeding or kidney problems, which make them unsafe for many older adults. You may not be able to take ibuprofen if you have high blood pressure.
Narcotics (also called opioids) are used for moderate to severe pain and require a doctor’s prescription. They may be habit-forming. They can also be dangerous when taken with alcohol or certain other drugs. Examples of narcotics are codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.
Other medications are sometimes used to treat pain. These include antidepressants, anticonvulsive medicines, local painkillers like nerve blocks or patches, and ointments and creams.
As people age, they are at risk for developing more side effects from medications. It’s important to take exactly the amount of pain medicine your doctor prescribes. Don’t chew or crush your pills if they are supposed to be swallowed whole. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re having trouble swallowing your pills.
Mixing any pain medication with alcohol or other drugs can be dangerous. Make sure your doctor knows all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements, as well as the amount of alcohol you drink.
Can chronic pain be prevented or avoided?
In many cases, chronic pain can’t be prevented. Some conditions that cause it, such as cancer, can be avoided in various ways. But there is often nothing you can do to control if you get chronic pain.
How is chronic pain diagnosed?
Pain management physicians will ask you about your medical history. Describing what hurts will help your doctor find the right treatment for you. Tell them where it hurts, how bad it is, and how often it occurs. Also, talk about what makes it better or worse. Your doctor will do a physical exam and may run tests to help determine the cause of your pain.
He or she will also review other health problems you may have (such as breathing problems or heart conditions). These could keep you from doing some types of therapy. Your doctor may also ask if you have had any problems with sleep, mood, or anxiety.