As we age, our body goes through many changes. Even if we don’t have a chronic health condition as an older adult, we often feel more aches and pains than we did in our younger years. Pain can be your body’s warning system that something is wrong. It’s important to communicate to your doctor where you hurt and specifically how the pain feels. There are two kinds of pain: acute and chronic pain. Acute pain begins suddenly, lasts for a short time, and goes away as your body heals. Examples of acute pain would include post-surgery, a broken bone, a toothache, or kidney stone.

Pain that lasts for three months or longer is considered chronic pain. This pain often affects older adults, many times caused by a health condition such as arthritis. Chronic pain can sometimes follow acute pain from an injury, surgery, or other health condition that has been treated, like post-herpetic neuralgia after shingles.

Living with pain can be difficult and can cause many other problems: getting in the way of your daily activities; disturbing your sleep and eating habits; making it difficult to continue working; keeping you from spending time with friends and family; and can also be related to depression or anxiety.

Treating or managing pain is important. Some treatments involve medications and some do not. Your treatment plan should be specific to you. Good communication with your doctor or healthcare specialist is essential to proper treatment. Talk with your healthcare specialist about your pain level so he/she can give you a specific treatment plan.

Your healthcare specialist may prescribe pain medications. Talk with him/her about their safety and right dose to take. Opioid use is becoming more prevalent among aging adults creating a potential health hazard that could have negative outcomes.

A recent study conducted by AARP found that 40 percent of older adults have chronic pain that is often treated with opioids. While opioids can be an effective form of pain management, if not properly managed, the risk of a substance use disorder, including addiction, overdose, or death is increased. These drugs can be dangerous especially when taken with alcohol or certain other drugs. Examples of opioids (also called narcotics) are codeine, morphine and oxycodone.

One of the problems for older adults when it comes to opioid use is the fact that as we age, our bodies metabolize medications differently. It is important to “start low, and go slow,” meaning starting opioids at low doses and increasing only as directed by a healthcare professional.

In addition to drugs, there are a variety of complementary and alternative approaches that can give you pain relief. Whether one approach is safer and more effective than another will depend on your unique situation. Some of these approaches include acupuncture, chiropractic, cognitive behavioral therapy, massage therapy, physical therapy, yoga and meditation and relaxation.

This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Instead, use this information to help you discuss your pain management options with your provider so that together you can identify the most effective approach to your care.

This article is brought to you by The Mercer Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. For more information, go to or call 609-396-5874 ext 205.