Chronic pain is defined as a pain that persists for several months and sometimes years, sending signals to the nervous system that the body is in distress or great anguish. 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 chronic pain in a report released in 2015.
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 re-hospitalizations and increased strain on personal finances.
The 2012 National Health Interview Study found that approximately 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 fixed since 2000, but how individuals handle their pain has varied.
America is deeply affected by 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?
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 a doctor 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.