What do I need to know about pain in older adults? 

    Pain is not a normal part of aging, and may be a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes there is no clear or exact cause of pain. Pain management is an important part of your care. If pain is not treated, it can decrease your appetite, sleep, and energy. It can also affect your mood and your relationships with others.

    What are the types of pain? 

    •    Acute pain may be caused by an illness or injury. It comes on suddenly and lasts a short period of time. Acute pain usually goes away as your body heals but may become chronic if left untreated

    •    Chronic pain describes pain that continues or gets worse over a long period of time. It may last for months or years. It may be pain that remains after you have recovered from an injury. Diseases such as cancer, arthritis, migraines, and back problems are also common causes of chronic pain

    How will healthcare providers know if I am in pain? 

    You may have many questions and fears about pain. Do not be ashamed to tell your healthcare providers about what you are feeling. Tell them where you hurt and how bad it is. You may try to deny that you are having pain to show courage or to escape treatment. Conditions such as dementia (memory problem), brain damage, or a stroke may make it hard to express pain. The following are common signs that may tell healthcare providers that you are in pain: 

    •    Crying, moaning, frowning, or sighing

    •    Frequent feelings of sadness, depression, hopelessness, aggression, or anger

    •    Noisy breathing, or calling out

    •    Not moving, or staying in one position to decrease pain

    •    Poor appetite, or changes to usual sleep patterns

    •    Pulling away or getting upset when touched

    •    Restlessness or pacing

    How is the cause of pain diagnosed? 

    •    Physical examination may help your healthcare provider find where your pain is. He or she may touch or press different places on your body

    •    Pain scales may help measure how much pain you feel. Pain scales may include numbers or faces. Your healthcare provider may ask you to rate the pain on a scale of 0 to 10. He or she may ask you to describe your pain. Tell your healthcare provider if your pain is sharp, dull, or achy. Tell him or her if you have constant pain or if it comes and goes

    •    X-rayCT, andMRI pictures may show your healthcare provider the cause of your chronic pain. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body

    •    Electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction, or evoked potential (EP) studies may help to find which nerves or muscles are causing your pain 

    Which medicines are used to treat pain? 

    •    Acetaminophen can be bought without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly

    •    NSAIDs can help decrease swelling and pain. You can buy NSAIDs without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly

    •    Narcotics are used for moderate to severe pain. At first, your healthcare provider may give you a low dose. The dose will slowly be increased until you reach the best dose for your pain

    How is pain treated without medicine? 

    Healthcare providers will try to treat the cause of your pain. This may include treating infections or cancer. You may also need the following to help manage your pain:

    •    Keep a pain diary to help you track pain cycles. Include things that make your pain worse or better. Bring your pain diary when you follow up with your healthcare provider or pain specialist

    •    Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed

    •    Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed

    •    Exercise can help improve movement and strength, and decrease pain. Your healthcare provider will help you find exercise programs that are right for your type of pain

    •    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you gain control over your pain and how you react to it. Your healthcare provider may have you get treatment from a therapist

    •    Self-management programs give you education about pain and the effect it can have on your life. The programs also teach coping techniques, such as relaxation and communication

    Where can I get more information?

    You can find related information on pain management and get assistance from the groups at: http://xwtt.sk8fg.com.

    When should I contact my healthcare provider? 

    •    Your pain gets worse or you have new pain

    •    You have new symptoms, such as numbness or tingling

    •    You have questions or concerns about your condition or care


    You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

    © 2017 Truven Health Analytics LLC All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics. 

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