Is Pain an Inevitable Part of Getting Older?


Q: Is pain an inevitable part of getting older?

A: As we age, some “nuisance pain” resulting from physical wear and tear is natural. The cartilage that cushions your joints may deteriorate over time, along with the disks that cushion the vertebrae in your spine. Some loss of suppleness is to be expected. Aging creates a double whammy, however, when we add chronic pain to the mix.

Chronic pain worsens over time, although to what degree is unpredictable and depends upon many unknowns. Most chronic pain results in loss of function in the neck, back or extremities. If pain causes us to protect a painful neck, back, arm or leg by not using it, then we can expect a loss of function in the affected joints, muscles, and surrounding structures, much as an athlete on the disabled list loses muscle conditioning. With disuse, blood supply to the area is reduced and arthritis can set in, further increasing our pain and discomfort. Conversely, activity restores circulation, which is good for the bones and joints.

To preserve optimal function and sustain vitality, activity levels should be increased gradually through a supervised rehabilitation program. The goal of living with chronic pain is not to cure it, but to manage it.

— Pain specialist Michael Stanton-Hicks, MD