Is Pain an Inevitable Part of Getting Older?

The short answer from a pain specialist
elderly woman with joint pain

Q: Is pain an inevitable part of getting older?

A: As you age, some “nuisance pain” resulting from physical wear and tear is natural. The cartilage that cushions your joints naturally deteriorates over time, and the discs that cushion the vertebrae in your spine lose water and become thinner. Some loss of suppleness is to be expected. Aging creates a double whammy, however, when you add chronic pain to the mix.

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Untreated 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 spine, joints or extremities.

If pain causes you to protect a painful neck, back, arm or leg by not using it, then you 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, reduced blood supply to the area can lead to arthritis, further increasing your pain and discomfort. Conversely, activity restores circulation, which helps your joints move with less pain.

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

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— Pain specialist Robert Bolash, MD

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