Coping With Pain
Persistent, long-lasting discomfort that does not resolve on its own or respond to routine pain relief methods is called chronic pain. It’s an unfortunate daily fact of life for many seniors who suffer from arthritis, shingles, sciatica, cancer, and other conditions. In recent years, however, research has led to more effective treatments for chronic pain. For instance, pain specialists now recognize the importance of treating pain early, before your brain “remembers it” and sends pain signals even in the absence of stimuli.
Your first step toward pain relief is to discuss your pain with your doctor. Because doctors cannot objectively measure your pain, you must describe it in detail. Most doctors would like to know:
- How long have you had the pain?
- Is the pain localized or does it radiate?
- Is the pain continuous or intermittent?
- How would you describe the pain? Aching, shooting, drilling, burning, hot?
- What activities or movements aggravate the pain?
The spectrum of available pain relievers has greatly expanded in recent years. Over-the-counter agents, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen (Advil) are often enough for most people. They are especially effective for musculoskeletal pain, such as arthritis and chronic headaches, but can be hard on the stomach. New agents, called COX-2 inhibitors (such as Vioxx), offer the same relief but with a much lower risk for gastrointestinal problems.
In people with moderate pain, stronger agents may be needed, such as the weak opiate narcotics like codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. These offer the greatest potency and the broadest spectrum of pain relief and are available in many formulations, including skin patches and lozenges. Time-released formulations of narcotic analgesics help to prevent pain before it begins.
Many people are reluctant to take even weak narcotic pain relievers, believing such medications are addictive. But addiction entails a psychological compulsion to abuse drugs and is very different than developing a “tolerance” for them or a physical dependence (withdrawal symptoms when they are stopped abruptly), pain specialists point out.
Drugs developed for other purposes — especially some antidepressants and anticonvulsants — can also be valuable in pain control, . And there is much to be said for non-pharmacological methods of pain relief. Hypnosis, acupuncture, biofeedback, exercise, and other activities are often recommended as part of a complete pain management program. You may want to check into The Alliance Institute for Integrative Medicine for alternative care options.
The best approach is to first find a doctor willing to work with you to manage your pain. This may entail visiting a pain clinic. Assessing pain and finding effective treatment can be complex, so give your doctor time to discover what works best in your case.
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