As we get older and put more wear and tear on our bodies, aches and pains seem to enter our lives more frequently than when we were younger. One study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 53% of older adults surveyed reported having bothersome pain in the last month. Another study published in the British Journal of Pain found that 73-80% of older adults said they deal with pain regularly.
In recognition of Pain Awareness Month, we’ve compiled the following remedies to help you manage pain as you age.
Pain Management Tips
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications
There are many types of OTC pain medication, but they all have their pros and cons. Some medicines will work better than others depending on the type of pain you have such as muscle soreness, a headache, or an arthritis flare up. What works best for you also depends on any existing health issues you have and the current medications you take. For example, people with gastrointestinal issues may want to avoid aspirin – and people with liver trouble may want to avoid acetaminophen. We recommend asking your doctor about which pain medication is best suited for your unique needs. And as always, be sure to follow best practices for medication safety.
Applying heat or cold can relive pain in the affected area. Cold can numb pain, reverse swelling, and reduce inflammation. Heat increases circulation and can relax stiff muscles & joints.
Cold can be applied with ice packs or cool water immersion. Heat can be delivered with a heating pad or a warm water soak or shower. You can also use topical gels and creams like Icy/Hot, Tiger Balm, Biofreeze, etc. for temperature therapy.
To conduct temperature therapy safely, be sure consult with your doctor and follow these guidelines:
- Don’t use heat therapy for recent injuries, swollen areas, or “throbbing” pain. The increase in circulation can make these types of pain feel worse.
- Always wrap an ice pack in cloth before using. Never apply ice directly to the skin.
- Cold therapy can be done 4-8 times per day in sessions of up to 15-20 minutes and stopped whenever the area becomes numb.
- Heat therapy can be done in sessions of 20-30 minutes every 2 hours.
Fitness & Physical Therapy
Too much inactivity can weaken muscles and limit blood circulation, contributing to stiffness and discomfort in the body. For many older adults, daily aches and pains are caused by overly tight muscles – which can be curbed by regular stretching, massage therapy, or mild-to-moderate exercises such as:
- Chair exercise
Although occasional pain is a normal part of aging, chronic pain that persists even after resting and remedies is not. If you suspect you may have chronic pain, please see your doctor. Communicating openly about your pain with your healthcare providers will help them devise a treatment plan that is right for you and your level of pain.