Senior Living Q & A: How to control pain

Q. What are the various methods of controlling pain?

Acute pain is generally controlled by treating the underlying disease and using short-term pain relievers. Chronic pain, however, usually requires several approaches, including various behavioral and coping strategies in addition to pain relievers and possibly other drugs.

You should speak with your doctor about the various over-the-counter and prescription products that are available to treat pain. The goal of drug treatment is not only to remove the pain, but also to improve function and quality of life. This means it is important to balance the risks and benefits of drug treatment. Drugs should be reserved for moderate to severe pain that is unrelieved by other approaches.

Pain management strategies that do not use drugs may provide some level of pain relief.

Physical methods such as heat, cold, massage and rubs applied to the skin can help manage pain in muscles, bones and joints. Many of these methods relax tense muscles and feel soothing.

Biofeedback, relaxation and hypnosis may be effective in controlling pain, but generally require the skills of a trained psychologist or therapist. However, you may find that there are CDs from these disciplines that are helpful to you.

A variety of distractions can serve to decrease our perception of pain. Many people find comfort in music, meditation, or prayer. Since inactivity and inability to move around may contribute to depression and greater pain, staying involved in activities, exercise and recreation as much as possible can make you feel better and take your mind off the pain. A sense of humor, the companionship of a pet, and visits by family and friends can also play significant roles in pain relief.

Topical or local drug treatment can effectively relieve pain in some conditions. For example, topical preparations (meaning applied to a body surface, such as the skin), including capsaicin creams, ketamine gel or lidocaine patches, may be effective for some types of nerve pain.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (known as TENS) has been used for a variety of chronic pain conditions in older adults. These include painful nerves caused by diabetes, shoulder pain or bursitis and fractured ribs. Ask your doctor if this would be appropriate for you.

There are many options available. Only by trial and error will you find what works best for you.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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