A remarkable number of people experience some kind of pain – 76 million, larger than the number of people who have diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. It is the leading cause of disability and reduced quality of life, according to the American Pain Foundation and its Pain Resource Guide.
Pain falls into two categories – acute pain or chronic pain. Acute pain is activated by tissue damage caused by illness, injury or surgery. It essentially acts to protect the body from further damage, because at the point the individual feels it, he or she stops the activity that he or she is doing. Acute pain diminishes with time and treatment because the underlying cause of the pain heals. The bigger culprit is chronic pain. Generated from a prolonged condition such as arthritis, chronic pain lasts for longer than three months (U.S. Center for Health Statistics).
With both categories of pain, if there is a significant change or escalation in symptoms, a visit to the doctor is recommended, because this can indicate a more serious medical condition. Always seek medical advice when pain levels increase in intensity or if the location or symptoms of the pain change.
One-third of the people who are living with chronic pain describe it as ‘disabling’ in relation to daily tasks. The extent to which pain can negatively affect how a person functions can easily create a ripple effect and lead to other adverse conditions. Chronic pain can:
Lessen the ability to function; increasing dependency on others
Create poor quality of sleep; resulting in exhaustion and prompting other health issues
Limit social activities; establishing opportunity for isolation and depression
Decrease capability for physical activity; leading to loss of muscle strength and flexibility and increasing the risk for injury
Three of the most commonly pain-affected body parts are the lower back, the hands and the feet. While preventive measures such as exercise may to help avoid the onset of pain, once these body parts feel discomfort, managing the pain becomes the focus.
Low Back Pain
Of those suffering from pain, 27 percent suffer from back pain, making it the most common form of pain. Furthermore, 80 percent of Americans during their lifetimes will endure some form of back pain. Back pain is the second most common reason for seeing a doctor in theUnited States, following coughs and other respiratory infections. According toUSA TODAY, “The U.S. health care system spends about as much each year on spine problems as it does on cancer.”
Causes of lower back pain – Pain from body organs that resides in the back is called referred pain. Doctors are usually aware of this when evaluating back pain. Nerve root syndromes are caused by herniated discs that are between the back bones and push on the nerves residing nearby. This pain initiates as a sharp pain in the back and can extend out to the extremities that the affected nerve is associated with, otherwise known as sciatica. Degeneration or expansion of intervertebral discs can also be the base cause for many back conditions.
Prevention – Low back pain is not always preventable but a person can take steps to keep it at bay by carefully keeping the muscles in the abdomen and along the spine strong, usually with exercises targeting those muscles. A doctor’s recommendation for specific exercises may be necessary for you. A WebMD article recommends these prevention guidelines and techniques:
Abdominal crunches, when performed correctly, strengthen the core muscles that support the body.
The wrong types of exercises, such as high-impact activities, may increase the chance of initiating back pain issues.
Low-impact activities such as swimming, walking and bicycling can help to increase overall fitness without putting undue stress on the lower back.
If certain activities such as standing, sitting, sleeping, or lifting cause the pain to flare up, adjust how you approach the activities. When standing, use proper posture. Put your shoulders comfortably back, your head up, and pull in your stomach. When sitting, have good lumbar support placed at your lower back. When sleeping, use pillows to support your back or find a mattress that has the right firmness.
When lifting something, bend your knees and keep your back straight up and down. Never bend over at the waist.
When to see a doctor – The Mayo Clinic recommends that a person needs to seek further medical evaluation when he or she experiences the following symptoms: fever, chills or night sweats; unexplained weight loss; pain that isn’t relieved with rest; pain that awakens you at night; pain that persists despite movement or changing positions; pain, numbness or weakness in one or both legs; inability to empty your bladder; or bowel or bladder incontinence.
Hand pain is the leading cause of disability in people over age 55. With symptoms like pain during and/or after a movement; tenderness when pressure is applied; stiffness; loss of flexibility; a grating sensation of bone-on-bone; and even bone spurs, it is easy to understand how someone’s daily routine is quickly impacted by hand pain.
Causes of hand pain – Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common forms of hand pain. Osteoarthritis causes pain in the joints as the smooth surface of the cartilage wears down and becomes rough over time. When the cartilage wears down completely, bone is then rubbing against bone causing the ends of the bone to become damaged and painful. People can develop osteoarthritis because of many factors – the aging process, joint injury or stress, heredity, muscle weakness, or obesity. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease in the joints that causes swelling, stiffness, joint destruction, and deformity. Symptoms are usually experienced symmetrically in the body. Causes for this disease are heredity, environmental factors and hormone levels.
Management – While there is no real prevention for these conditions, measures can be taken around the house to avoid aggravating the pain while at the same time making life easier.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends:
In the kitchen:
Pots and pans with handles on both sides for ease in carrying
An electric can opener
When choosing clothing:
Clothes with larger buttons, hooks or zippers instead of buttons are easier to put on
Velcro closures on shoes instead of laces to make shoes easier to manage
In the bathroom:
The sink, tub and shower fixtures should be large enough to grip and effortless to turn off and on
When to see a doctor – If swelling or stiffness in the joints lasts for longer than two weeks, call your doctor’s office to make an appointment. If you are already taking medication for arthritis, seek medical attention if you feel nauseous, abdominal discomfort, constipated, drowsy, or have black or tarry stools.
Foot pain is actually one of the more preventable pains. Yet according to a 2009 survey done by the American Podiatric Medical Association, eight out of 10 people had at least one foot problem in the past year. Minor foot pain usually responds well to home treatment and behavior modifications. More severe foot pain will most likely need medical attention, because if left untreated, it could lead to long-term damage or even disability.
Causes – The most common foot pain is due to poorly fitting shoes, injuries or overuse. Arthritis and diabetes can lead to foot problems as well.
Prevention – Dennis Frisch, DPM, a podiatrist and spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, says, “Foot pain isn’t normal, and yet people put up with it.” Frisch and a fellow podiatrist, Jeffrey A. Ross, DPM, MD, cite six ways to help prevent foot pain:
Pay attention to hygiene and pedicures – Take care of your feet by keeping the toenails clipped straight across to avoid ingrown nails and keep them moisturized so they won’t crack, creating a place for bacteria to enter the skin.
Be alert to age-related changes – Feet do change with age, beginning in the 40s and 50s. The padding on the bottom of the feet becomes less substantial, arthritis can set in, toes may bend, and toenails become thicker. Feet can change in size too, usually becoming longer and wider. Be aware that a different shoe size may be needed as you age.
Wear shoes that fit and match your activity – Feet are bigger at the end of the day. Consider buying shoes at that time of day. Measure your feet every time you buy shoes. Buy appropriate shoes for the activity for which you plan to wear them. Walking shoes have different support features than running shoes do.
Give your arches the support they need – Feet with high arches, as well as flat feet, need arch support for best long-term prevention of pain. Both over-the-counter arch supports and custom orthotics are available. Ask your doctor if your feet need arch support.
Reconsider high heels and flip-flops – The higher the heel, the more pressure it puts on the ball of the foot. Flip-flops offer no protection, no support and no stability for the feet.
Limit barefoot time – Injuries to the feet are more likely to happen if the feet are not protected by shoes. Plus, they are at higher risk for picking up fungal infection because of increased exposure.
When to see a doctor – It is time to call the doctor’s office, if the pain persists and limits you from normal daily activities; if you are experiencing swelling, stiffness and pain that worsen after you have been active; if you have signs of infection such as redness, warmth, tenderness, or a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit; or you are experiencing burning, tingling or numbing in your feet.
Tips for Managing Pain
Managing pain can begin even before actual pain is part of your life by enacting preventive measures. Strengthening the body is a great deterrent of pain if done appropriately. Pain in general can be addressed using a few techniques that apply to the whole body. Suggestions of proactive pain prevention are:
Relaxation techniques such as meditation and stretching reduce tension.
Regular participation in physical activity improves strength, energy and confidence, and lessens anxiety and depression. Talk to a doctor about the appropriate type activity and level of participation for you.
Proper diet helps your body combat germs and illness.
Pain workshops are a great resource for people experiencing chronic pain. Your local hospitals, pain management clinics, and professionals devoted to pain management offer workshops for chronic pain sufferers. These workshops usually cover techniques for dealing with the symptoms of your pain, how to handle the frustration associated with your discomfort, appropriate exercises, how to use medications, and communicating with your doctor about your pain.
A common impulse when a person has pain is to take aspirin or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Aleve, Celebrex) — traditionally, very effective remedies. But according to a study from the American Geriatrics Society, those types of everyday medicines — called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — might be dangerous for older Americans. As a result, for people 75 years or older experiencing persistent pain, NSAIDs are no longer on the list of recommended drugs. Talk with your doctor about the best medicine for you.
Dealing with low back, hand and foot pain is a reality for so many people. Taking an active role in your pain management lends itself to better quality of life. If your pain level dictates it, begin by talking with your doctor and formulating a plan for options for managing current pain and the systemic issues related to that pain. When possible determine where pain prevention techniques can be implemented, so you are doing all that you can to maintain a pain-free and more satisfying life.
SCSA educates professionals to work more effectively with their senior clients. They believe that the right kind of planning, recommendations and referrals can make aging a state to be savored instead of a fate to be feared.
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