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While it’s a blessing to live a long life, the aging process comes with its share of aches and pains. The healing process is slower in an aging body, so underestimating pain, delaying treatment, or avoiding care due to pain-related fear may contribute to the development of chronic pain and associated disability.

Here’s the good news: treating acute pain appropriately may prevent its development into chronic pain, while managing existing chronic pain can improve quality of life and promote a healthy lifespan in the years to come.

When pain overstays its welcome

Acute pain is usually triggered by injury or trauma and serves as a protection mechanism to deter us from further insult.

But when acute pain is poorly managed, a pathological process takes place in the central and peripheral nervous systems, known as sensitization. This mechanism is theorized to drive the development of chronic pain. Pain is considered chronic when it has persisted for three months or longer.

Collaborative care

Curate your multidisciplinary pain management team by seeking the care of diverse practitioners, such as a naturopathic doctor, acupuncturist, psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and osteopathic manual therapist. These care providers can offer evidence-based pain management treatments.

Evidence-based pain treatments

  • Acupuncture relieves pain by encouraging the body’s own production of opiates, endorphins, and corticosteroids, and has been shown to reduce chronic low back pain.
  • Mind-body approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction help reduce chronic low back pain.
  • Hypnotherapy is effective in reducing chronic pain for some individuals.
  • Osteopathy  is shown to be helpful in some cases of low back pain.
  • Music therapy is effective in lowering pain for palliative care patients.

Fight inflammation with food

An anti-inflammatory approach to eating is helpful for managing acute and chronic pain. Cut back on sugar, processed foods, and trans fats, and opt for a food plan based on whole foods including fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, fish and unprocessed meats, and whole grains.

If your pain originates from the digestive tract or from an autoimmune condition, consider testing for sensitivities to gluten and other foods.

Easing up is wise

With acute pain, it’s particularly important to rest the painful area to reduce inflammation and allow for healing. Manage chronic pain by interspersing periods of rest throughout activities that aggravate your pain.

Staying active is important

On top of strengthening muscles, improving flexibility, and promoting joint stability, research suggests that exercise also increases the body’s production of pain-relieving molecules known as endocannabinoids.

Of course, when pain interferes with exercise, we have a problem! Consult with a physiotherapist or kinesiologist for an individualized exercise treatment program, which has been shown to reduce pain and promote function.

Mind over matter works wonders

We can tap into the mind-body connection and use it to our advantage! Optimism is protective against day-to-day pain-related disruptions and increases goal-directed activity in older adults.

Dr. Cassie Irwin, ND