(By Protégez-Vous in partnership with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal)
Is the pain in your shoulders making it hard for you to lift your pots and pans? Back pain preventing you from walking to the corner store? Pain is a common complaint among seniors. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your suffering. This article tells you how.
A few facts on chronic pain
Did you know that an estimated 50 percent of seniors suffer from chronic pain – that is, pain lasting more than three months? Chronic pain can be serious enough to prevent people from taking part in daily activities and caring for themselves or their home.
Chronic pain can also cause sleep problems, memory loss, mobility issues, reduced appetite, weight loss and, if it lasts for a prolonged period, depression.
The fact that it is common in seniors does not mean that we just sit idly by and do nothing. Every effort must be made to manage the pain as much as possible.
Medications to relieve chronic pain
Many classes of drugs are used to treat pain. Some are available without a prescription at your local pharmacy. Consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any of these products. They can recommend various options depending on your needs and state of health.
- Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol or Atasol) is generally a safe, effective pain treatment option. Do not exceed the maximum dose of 3 g per day.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs are usually not recommended for seniors. It is better to take them only when prescribed by a doctor. He or she must be familiar with your state of health before prescribing this type of pain reliever.
- For more severe pain, opiates (narcotics) can be prescribed by a doctor. The dose and frequency must be followed to the letter, since some of these drugs work for four hours, while others work for 12 to 24 hours, offering longer lasting relief.
- Other medications can be used to treat pain caused by nerve damage. Antidepressants and anti-epileptic drugs are some of the other options available by prescription. As surprising as this may be, these drugs actually do work by acting directly on the pain.
Alternative solutions to relieve chronic pain
While medication is useful in reducing pain, other drug-free solutions should not be overlooked.
Regular, progressive exercise helps you focus on the activity at hand and less on the pain. It is natural for pain to slightly increase when you first start exercising, but it will gradually decrease through the practice of simple exercises suited to your state of health.
Physiotherapists can help patients determine the exercises they should be doing based on their type of pain. They can also use various physical pain management techniques such as ultrasound, the application of heat and cold and TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). This technique helps relieve pain using a low intensity electric current transmitted to the painful area through electrodes placed on the skin.
To have access to physiotherapy services, ask your attending physician for a consultation form.
Chronic pain can cause irritability, anxiety and even major depression. If it strikes, it is important to seek help from specialists and take good care of yourself. Pain can affect a person’s morale, but a person’s morale can also influence his or her perception of the pain. That’s why you must do your best to not let it take over your entire life, by continuing to take part in enjoyable activities. Even if the pain is not in your head, it will be less bothersome if you distract yourself with pleasant activities and positive thoughts.
As for relaxation exercises, they can contribute to calming the mind, relaxing the muscles and reducing muscle pain. Consulting a psychologist can also help better manage and accept chronic pain. To find a psychologist, visit the Ordre des psychologues du Québec Website or call your CLSC.
Managing chronic pain with the help of specialists
An interdisciplinary team of health professionals (with a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, psychologist or other specialist) can be useful in implementing a pain management treatment plan. Pain management clinics usually work in such teams. They are generally associated with major university hospitals.
To get an appointment with a team of pain management specialists, talk to your family doctor.
Finding information and support on managing chronic pain
If you are dealing with chronic pain, you can learn to better control your condition using a combination of approaches. It is important, however, that you have realistic expectations and clearly defined objectives. The ultimate goal of treatment is not to completely eliminate the pain, but rather to improve your functioning ability and quality of life. This requires you to play an active role in managing your pain.
The Association québécoise de la douleur chronique provides information and support to those living with chronic pain. Consult their website for more details.
To learn more:
“Guide pratique de l’aide aux aînés,” Protégez-Vous, August 2011 (In French only)
“Soigner les maladies inflammatoires par l’alimentation,” Protégez-Vous, April 2012 (In French only)