The concept of pain is easy to grasp yet surprisingly difficult to understand. We all think that we know what pain is. After all, from the time that we were toddlers, we have experienced pain in many ways. 

We know what it feels like to slice our finger, while cutting a piece of bread. We know the lingering burn that comes from touching a hot frying pan with our finger. We have experienced sore throats and minor bumps, broken legs and flu-like symptoms.

So, yes, we think to ourselves. We understand what pain is. We “get it.”

But, do we really? Or, do we only understand acute pain? Do we understand chronic pain?

Chronic Pain is Different

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for months. Sometimes it starts after an injury. However, it can also begin with no recognizable “cause.”

This type of pain also varies in intensity, from mildly annoying to absolutely excruciating and, regardless of the initial cause, it has the ability to dramatically decrease a person’s quality of life.

Of course, when we are in pain, we are willing to do almost anything to feel better. So, in recent years, many of us have turned to powerful drugs to deal with chronic pain.

Opioids Have Become a Big Issue for Older Adults

Now to be 100% clear, I’m not a medical professional. There are absolutely cases when opioids are an appropriate treatment option and only your doctor can tell you whether they are right for you.

However, given the fact that, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in 2015, 20,101 prescription-related overdose deaths were recorded, I wanted to offer some alternatives for dealing with chronic pain.

Will these approaches cure all kinds of chronic pain? Certainly not! But, are there people out there that could avoid medication if they used them? Definitely!

I hope that these pain management techniques give you something to discuss with your doctor. When you do meet with him or her, ask your doctor if it would be worth trying any of these techniques before turning to opioids. You may be surprised by their response.

Release Natural Pain Killers Through Exercise

Exercise is an excellent response to chronic pain. For starters, exercising releases endorphins – your body’s natural pain killers – that can combat pain directly.

In addition, exercising regularly after 50 can help you to lose excess weight. Since many forms of chronic pain are made worse by us carrying around extra pounds, exercise is a simple way to reduce the strain on our bodies.

So, join a gym, go hiking, lift weights or take up a new sport. The choice is yours. But, whatever you do… get moving!

Find Ways to Laugh More

Similar to exercise, laughter causes the body to release endorphins. Laughing may also cause our bodies to release dopamine, a feel-good substance that may help us to deal better with depression.

There are so many ways to build funny moments into your day. Schedule time every day to watch a funny movie, subscribe to a “joke of the day” newsletter or watch cat videos. The choices are endless!

The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. – Mark Twain

Eat a Healthy Diet

When we are overweight, our muscles, joints and bones suffer. Of course, when it comes to shedding those excess pounds, exercise is important… but, so is our diet.

So, skip the fast-food, support your local farmers, eat plenty of veggies and drink more water. Your body and your brain will thank you!

Here’s a video that I recorded on how to eat a healthy diet after 50. I hope that you find it useful!

 

Reduce the Stress in Your Life

Did you ever notice that, when you feel stressed out, all of your physical symptoms feel worse. Stress has the opposite impact on our bodies than exercise and laughter – it releases all of the chemicals that we don’t want, including cortisol.

When it comes to stress reduction, start small. Identify one thing every day that you can do to remove stress from your life.

Pay a bill early. Cut up one of your credit cards. Have a conversation with a loved one about their yelling. Go for a walk instead of taking the bus. Get a stress ball. Punch a pillow.

There are so many options and you have nothing to lose by reducing the stress in your life.

Try Meditation

When we are in pain, it’s easy to let our minds get into negative loops. We feel bad, so we anticipate feeling bad, which makes our pain worse. It’s an endless and depressing cycle.

Meditation can help you to relax your muscles. With time, it may also help you to take your mind off of your pain so that you can end your negative pain loop.

Read more about the powerful benefits of meditation and how it can help you to get more from life after 60.

Consider Breathing Exercises

Similar to meditation, deep breathing exercises can help you to relax and keep your mind off of your pain.

Here is a short video that can help you to get started with deep breathing as an older adult.

 

Drink Less Alcohol and Quit Smoking

Drinking too much alcohol and smoking have exactly the wrong impact on our bodies when it comes to pain management. For starters, both activities put stress on our bodies, which can lead to inefficient organ functioning or even direct pain.

In addition, alcohol and cigarettes have been shown to decrease the quality of our sleep. Since sleep is so important to the process of repairing our bodies, we can’t afford to lose a precious moment of it… especially if we are dealing with chronic pain!

Looking for even more tips for sleeping better after 50? Here are 6 ways to get better sleep at any age.

Find a Support Group

Dealing with pain can be a lonely process. And, the negative feelings that we feel are magnified by our perceived isolation.

Joining a support group has several benefits when it comes to pain management. First, having people to talk to can help to us to deal with anxiety and depression. Second, the members of our support group may have their own excellent suggestions for dealing with pain.

The following link has a list of chronic pain support groups by state.

Identify and Track Your Pain Triggers

We can’t always identify or deal with the root cause of our pain, but, we can usually find the little triggers that make it worse.

Does your pain flare up when you go out into the cold? Do you cringe when you need to go up the stairs? When you are stressed, do you feel the nerve in your spine pulsing?

The only way that you will identify your pain triggers is to start writing them down. Once you have a list of pain triggers, start looking for ways to reduce the impact of each.

Not only will dealing with your pain triggers reduce their impact directly, but, it will also give you a sense of control, which may help to reduce your feelings of anxiety and depression, if you have them.

Take Advantage of Biofeedback to Reduce Pain

Biofeedback works by giving you a visual representation of bodily functions like pulse and muscle tension. Throughout the process, you see little lines that represent each bodily function. By learning to control these lines with your mind, you can learn to reduce your physical symptoms.

Ask your doctor if biofeedback might be appropriate for your situation.

Treat Your Body to the Occasional Massage

Not everyone can afford to pay $100 for a massage, but, almost everyone has someone in their life that they can trade massages with. If you are married, you have a built in massage partner. Just start trading them 20-minute nightly massages. You’ll be amazed by how much better your body feels.

But, even if you don’t have a partner, you can always practice self-massage.

Here is a video that demonstrates how to give yourself a shoulder massage. A quick search on YouTube will return many more!

 

Learn the Art of Self-Distraction

Sometimes, when the pain settles in to your body, the best thing to do is simply to distract yourself. Activities like video games, painting, writing or yoga can help to take your mind off of your pain and nip negative thoughts in the bud.

Let’s look at video games, for example. According to Emory University clinical psychologist Nadine Kaslow, who spoke with CBS News, “(Game therapy) is being used with real patients. There’s some evidence that it can be helpful to people with burns, for example, when they’re going through dressing changes. Or children going through chemotherapy. It can help to distract them.”

If playing games can help people who are going through chemotherapy, imagine what it can do for chronic pain.

I hope that you find these suggestions for dealing with chronic pain useful. Of course, there will be times when medication really is the right solution, but, for many of us, the options listed in this article will give us the pain relief we need without the opioids that we don’t.

Not including medication, what techniques do you think are most effective for reducing chronic pain? Exercise? Meditation? Distraction? Massage? Biofeedback? Something else? Let’s have a chat!

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