Taking Charge of Your Chronic Pain

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Everyone experiences pain at some point in their lives. Oftentimes, the pain will fade away once your body heals from an illness or injury. However, if pain persists for more than three months, it is generally considered to be chronic. 

Chronic pain is one of the most common medical issues affecting older adults. Chronic pain can stem from a specific illness or injury. Health conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and neuropathy are all associated with pain, as are multiple sclerosis and many types of cancer. In other cases, there may not be an easily identifiable cause. A person may also have multiple sources of pain occurring simultaneously. 

Chronic pain affects not only one’s physical wellbeing. It can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s mental health, social relationships, and work obligations. Experiencing chronic pain may keep someone from engaging in activities that they used to enjoy or from participating in social events with friends and loved ones. Living with a chronic illness can contribute to depression, anxiety, frustration, increased stress, and social isolation.

Managing chronic pain can be very difficult, but there are techniques and strategies available that can help you to better control your pain and its impact on your quality of life. Having the right tools in your toolbox and knowing when to use them can reduce the physical burden of chronic pain while also improving your emotional wellness. 

Exercise is one of the best ways to stay healthy at any age and it can actually help manage pain. You may have to adapt your exercise routines though or find new physical activities that won’t put undue stress on your body. Walking instead of jogging is a lower impact way to get a cardiovascular workout that may reduce stiffness in the muscles or joints. Swimming and water aerobics are gentler on your body than a traditional gym workout while still providing great benefits for your stamina, flexibility, and cardiovascular health. Exercises like yoga and pilates come with many modifications that can accommodate an individual’s pain. Do talk to your medical provider before starting any new exercise routine.      

There are also mental approaches to pain management that have been shown to be effective in a variety of settings. Relaxation exercises can help to calm your nervous system and reduce the intensity of pain. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness – an approach to focusing on the mind and body without distraction – can reduce pain and the reliance on medications. Mindfulness can also help to alleviate the emotional stress and anxiety of living with a chronic health condition.

It is also vital to have a good support team, both of professionals and loved ones. Communicating with your healthcare providers and advocating for your needs are skills that can be learned and practiced. There are several medications that can be prescribed to help with pain, but it is important to work with your providers to understand your treatment options and to settle on an approach that will best meet your needs. Having a strong social support network of friends and loved ones can also make a huge difference in managing the emotional burden of chronic pain. 

This spring, the Elder Initiative at William Way is joining with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) to offer a six-session Chronic Pain Self-Management Program to the LGBTQ+ community. The Chronic Pain Self-Management curriculum covers techniques to deal with symptoms of chronic pain such as fatigue, sleeplessness, and stress. Classes also address the emotional challenges associated with living with chronic pain such as depression, anger, fear, and frustration. Participants develop personalized action plans throughout the course to set goals around better managing the effects of their chronic pain and to become better self-managers.  

Classes will be held at the William Way Community Center (1315 Spruce St.) on Tuesday afternoons from 1:00-3:30 starting April 11th and running weekly through May 16th. Registration is required and participants are expected to attend all six sessions. Because this program is funded by the Department of Aging, participants must be age 60 and over. To register or to receive more information, contact the PCA Health Promotion Office at 215-765-9000 x 5119.

While someone may not be able to entirely eliminate their chronic pain, becoming a more effective self-manager and developing the tools to address symptoms, manage emotions, and evaluate treatment options can make life with chronic pain much more pleasant!