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Understanding & Managing Age-Related Pains

We’re more likely to experience certain types of pain as we get older. Here’s what you should know.

As we get older, the wear and tear on our bodies starts to add up. That wear and tear can lead to conditions like osteoarthritis1, and may be partly why nearly 50 million Americans suffer from pain symptoms every day.2 The good news is, there are plenty of ways to treat and manage age-related pain symptoms.

It’s important to understand the type of pain you may be experiencing. Generally, pain can be broken down into two categories: chronic pain, and acute pain.

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

Acute pain is pain triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and a need to take care of yourself3, and you’ll typically know what caused that pain – a recent injury or surgery, for example. While acute pain usually lasts no more than six months (or however long it takes for your body to be recovered from the cause of that pain)4, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three to six months, and has its roots in many factors including old injuries, one or more underlying disease or health conditions, like osteoarthritis [link to arthritis article]; carpal tunnel syndrome; or problems with the nervous system5. Unlike acute pain, which is immediate and sharp, chronic pain is dull and aching and your body can keep hurting for weeks, months, or even years.6

Common Types of Pain

1. Lower Back Pain:

A lifetime of lifting, bending and twisting can lead to sore muscles and ligaments, herniated or compressed disks, and so on, and is experienced by almost 80% of adults.
What causes it7: Lower back pain is caused by a general degeneration of the spine due to wear and tear. So anything that puts pressure or strain on your spine and the complex system of nerves running through and around it may trigger this pain. The ailments that cause lower back pain may include: traumatic injuries; sitting regularly with bad posture; skeletal defects like scoliosis; and degenerative conditions like spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column) or radiculopathy (compression on of a spinal nerve that can be caused by herniated disks and stenosis). 
Most likely to strike: The chances of developing lower back pain increase with age, with the first symptoms commonly appearing anywhere between age 30 and 50 years7.
Ways to help prevent lower back pain7:

  • Low-impact exercises like yoga and swimming and brisk walks are great ways to strengthen core muscles that can reduce the pressure on the spine, while helping you stay in shape.
  • When sitting at a desk, make sure your work surface is at a comfortable height, and maintain good posture, with your shoulders back.
  • When lifting heavy objects, bend at the knees, pull your stomach muscles in, and keep your straight back. Do not lift anything too heavy, and do not twist your torso when lifting.
  • Ways to help manage lower back pain7: Hot or cold packs can temporarily reduce lower back pain, as can acupuncture. Over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medicines, and topical creams, gels, and patches like BENGAY® Products can also provide temporary pain relief.  Be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any medicinal program or physical regimen for treating your pain.
     

2. Headaches

Headaches are, not surprisingly, pain in any region of your head, and can be sharp, dull or throbbing in nature8.
What causes it: Headaches are also the most common form of pain9 and have a wide variety of causes, including stress, dehydration, exhaustion, and food sensitivities. Primary headaches include tension headaches, cluster headaches and migraines. Secondary headaches are those that are tied to an underlying condition.
Most likely to show: At any age.
How to manage: Most primary headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, and relaxation techniques like massages and simple rest10. Secondary headaches should be treated through a doctor to address any underlying conditions or causes.

3. Osteoarthritis Pain

Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of the protective cartilage between bones, resulting in the bones rubbing together causing joint pain. It affects some 27 million Americans11.
What causes it: While osteoarthritis is commonly associated with aging, and is, in fact, caused by the cumulative impact on the bones and soft cartilage between them that adds up over the years, it can also be the result of old injuries, being overweight, and genetics.
Most likely to strike: Age 65 and onward, but it can begin decades earlier, too11.
How to manage: Low-impact exercises like yoga, swimming, walking or biking can improve joint mobility, reduce joint pain and stiffness, and support weight11. Keeping off extra weight will reduce unnecessary pressure on your joints, too. To manage pain stemming from osteoarthritis, over-the-counter pain relievers and analgesics can help reduce pain12; some topical analgesic ointments, patches, or creams such as Ultra Strength BENGAY® Cream, can also relieve minor arthritis and joint pain. Consult with your doctor about what type of pain management program is right for you.

[1] https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=55
[2] http://americanpainsociety.org/about-us/press-room/nih-study-shows-prevalence-of-chronic-or-severe-pain-in-u-s-adults
[3] https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Chronic-Pain-Information-Page
[4] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/12051-acute-vs-chronic-pain
[5] https://nccih.nih.gov/health/pain/chronic.htm
[6] https://www.mayoclinic.org/understanding-pain/art-20208632
[7] https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet
[8] https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/headache/basics/definition/sym-20050800
[9] https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Headache-Information-Page
[10] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-daily-headaches/in-depth/headaches/art-20047375
[11] https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=55
[12] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350777