Chronic pain is pain that persists for several months and sometimes years, signaling the nervous system that the body is in discomfort or agony. A wide range of health conditions such as arthritis, back sprain, migraine and peripheral neuropathy can cause chronic pain. The National Institutes of Health estimated that 100 million Americans are affected by it in a report released in 2015.
Age and Chronic Pain Experience
Middle-aged and older adults experience more aches and pains as their joints and bodies begin to wear down with age, disease and injury. Seniors are more likely to find ongoing pain interrupting their quality of life with restricted movement, lower energy, feelings of depression, trouble concentrating and poor sleep. Unrelieved pain can lead to more emergency room visits, longer hospital stays, higher rates of rehospitalizations and increased strain on personal finances.
The 2012 National Health Interview Study noted that about 25.3 million U.S. adults experienced daily pain in the three months prior to the survey and roughly 40 million adults described their prolonged pain as severe. Overall, the reported pain of U.S. adults has remained fairly steady since 2000, but how individuals handle their pain has differed.
Opioid Prescriptions for Chronic Pain
America is entrenched in a misuse and overuse of painkillers, particularly a class of controlled prescription drugs called opioids that include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and morphine. With the quadrupling of prescription opioid use in the country since 1999, and an upsurge in opioid overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a guideline for safe and effective use of pain medications.
Physicians are now increasingly aware that prescribed pain medications can be addictive and want to assist patients in better pain management without dependency on painkillers. Many of the stronger pain drugs carry unknown risks and are under added scrutiny to determine whether they are effective in the long term.
What can chronic pain sufferers do other than take pain-relieving medications and herbal analgesic substances?
Chronic Pain Treatment Alternatives
Individuals respond to pain relief differently, but there are several ways to alleviate and manage pain and improve function without reliance on strong pain medications. These pain relief treatments include:
- Physical therapy
- Massage therapy
- Stretching exercises, yoga, tai chi
- Relaxation techniques
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Non-opioid medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen
- Trigger point, steroid and nerve block injections
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET)
Always consult with your medical team to determine the best pain management approach for your individual health condition. Be sure to follow specific medication directives, and if you or a senior loved one needs help with medication monitoring, home care assistance might be an answer.
Resources for Chronic Pain Management
Consulting with a pain management specialist — a physician who is trained to evaluate, diagnose and treat acute pain, chronic pain and cancer pain — is highly recommended. Patients may ask for a referral through a primary care physician. U.S. News also offers a directory of pain management specialists in different states for reference.
The American Pain Society identified pain rehabilitation centers across the country, detailing the mission and services of the featured facilities in a directory. If you search “pain management program,” or “integrated pain services,” you will find many hospitals, clinics and medical centers affiliated with universities that offer assistance to patients with chronic pain. The American Chronic Pain Association also has a wealth of resources regarding pain awareness, treatments and management tools.
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.