Healthy Aging

Better Ways To Handle Chronic Pain

If you have it, you probably don’t need the statistics to tell you that chronic pain is common, affecting at least 50 million U.S. adults, and so you have plenty of company.

What you might need are facts – and better ways – to help you cope and to talk more productively with your doctor about your chronic pain.

First the facts

The ”burden of pain,” as researchers call it, is not equal across racial and ethnic groups. There are differences in how people of different races and ethnicities experience pain, according to a recent study. For instance, some research studies have found that Blacks and Hispanic-Americans may be less tolerant of pain than whites. The study goes into detail on other differences. And there’s the difference in access to care, just as for other conditions.

Pain is complicated

“Chronic pain is influenced through many different things, like sleep, stress, emotions, previous pain experiences and much more,” says Christiane Wolf, MD, PhD, a physician turned mindfulness expert and author of Outsmart Your Pain: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion to Help You Leave Chronic Pain Behind. “This explains that often the level of pain and the tissue damage don’t match.” This is actually good news, she says, since it means that we can ”train the brain to respond to pain triggers differently and can usually move a lot more than what the pain tell us is possible.”

 “I wish people would take to heart that there is no short cut for the treatment of refractory chronic pain.”

Having patience with the treatment approach is wise, says Michael R. Clark, MD, MPH, a physician and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, who directs pain treatment programs there.  “I wish people would take to heart that there is no short cut for the treatment of refractory chronic pain.”  Treatment and relief take time; the program needs your full support.

Paying attention to your mental health is important, too. “The number one reason people have refractory chronic pain is major depression,” Clark believes. So treating the depression is crucial, he says. And a program of physical therapy can return patients to normal functioning, he says.

What do I tell my doctor about my pain? 

Talking Points: When you’re face-to-face (zooming or in person) with your doctor, remember that you are in charge, Wolf says. After hearing the treatment plan your physician has, she suggests asking about a multidimensional approach. That’s a great idea, Wolf says, since chronic pain is a ”multilayered experience” and while Western medicine such as medication and surgery can play important roles, it ”should never be the only part.”  If your own doctor doesn’t have experience beyond medication and surgery, and you’d like to explore options, you can ask for a referral.

Be specific!

When describing your pain, it’s normal, Wolf says, to say “This pain is killing me!” or “I have this horrible pain in back!”  That venting doesn’t tell your doctor much, however. It’s much more useful to describe the sensations, not your interpretations of them, she says. So try: “My pain is tearing,” “My pain is throbbing,” “My pain is pulsing.”


This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.






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