Pain Management

Pain management can be a very simple process or a rather complex one depending on the root of the issue. Since our nerve endings create the experience of physical discomfort, dealing with chronic pain is accomplished through myriad techniques and solutions.

Amazingly, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined and is cited as the most common reason people access healthcare. The National Center for Health Statistics approximates that 76.2 million Americans (1 in 4 people) regularly experience pain that last longer than 24 hours and millions more have acute pain.

Symptoms of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is the umbrella term used to characterize persistent pain that interferes with one’s ability to carry out their daily routine and wellbeing in general.

The sensation of pain itself can vary as any combination of mild, dull, sharp, or severe feelings emanating from one or several bodily regions. Really, pain can occur in just about any part of the body and is commonly the result of repetitive actions, incorrect posture, past accidents or injuries, and other health conditions.

Causes of Chronic Pain

Seniors commonly experience chronic joint pain from arthritis, as well as other types like sciatic nerve pain as a result of sitting or standing for extended periods of time. Generally speaking, depression and anxiety can themselves be considered pain and may even worsen existing physical sensations.

Neuropathy is a type of burning nerve pain caused by conditions like diabetes and can become a serious complication for many. Similar pains like neuralgia can be some of the worst sensations in medicine and are often the result of severe cases of shingles.

If you experience a sharp or sudden pain with no immediately obvious cause, it can be wise to assess the situation and consider medical attention depending on how long it lasts. Similar pains can mean very different things, so always consult a doctor with your concerns.

Diagnosing Chronic Pain

Pain is almost a completely personal experience and is highly subjective. No universal test can be administered to measure or locate pain with precision, leaving doctors to rely on patient descriptions to provide an accurate diagnosis.

If you’re experiencing chronic pain, one of the most helpful things to do is to keep a log of when the sensations occur and the specific details of how the pain feels, its duration, etc.

Depending on the location of your pain, doctors may use imaging techniques like CT scans, x-rays, MRIs or anything else that might identify abnormalities in the affected region.

Chronic Pain Treatments

The main goal of any chronic pain treatment is to reduce discomfort and improve function, allowing people to maintain their day-to-day lives. Although many types of chronic pains cannot be cured entirely, they can be managed effectively.

Given the cause of your pain, you may be prescribed medications, be recommended to a chiropractor, undergo surgery to correct or remove an affected area, or even receive acupuncture, massage, or be instructed on meditation techniques. Truly, treatment options are widely ranging and tailored to your specific situation.

Most of the time you’ll be encouraged to become an active participant in problem-solving and taking actions to manage your pain. Considering that some forms of pain cannot be eliminated entirely, certain approaches focus on providing a means of coping with one’s condition and learning healthy ways of responding to the situation.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common side effects of opioids?

There are some unpleasant side effects of opioids that you will want to discuss with your senior’s physician or pain management specialist. They are:

  • Constipation: The elderly and those with conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract are most likely to suffer from constipation when taking opioids.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Depending on what opioid your loved one is taking, it may take a toll on the gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea and vomiting.
  • Itching: Though this symptom will typically last for just a few days, patients may feel itchy due to the release of histamines triggered by opioids.
  • Respiratory depression: This is a rare symptom, though will be present in an opioid overdose. If you or your senior experience shallow slow breathing when taking opioids, talk to your doctor to determine if medication changes should be made, or if it is stemming from another underlying condition.

Learn more about chronic pain management for seniors by reading about how to treat chronic pain in the elderly.

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So I’m not one to try pain medicines unless it’s a last resort - does acupuncture work for seniors?

We hear you! There are many studies to show that acupuncture can be effective in treating mild forms of osteoarthritis. Essentially, this technique causes an increase in T-cells and inhibits inflammatory cytokines which can result in pain management. Acupuncture may also be useful for those suffering from back pain and headaches. Results can vary, however it is one non-drug option many seniors try frequently.

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