Tips and strategies to conquer chronic pain and enjoy an active and fulfilling life

Jul 17, 2023
As we age, our bodies may become more susceptible to chronic pain. Source: Getty Images.

Chronic pain can have a significant impact on an individual’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Not only can it limit mobility, making it difficult to perform daily tasks and participate in activities that were once enjoyed, but it can also cause fatigue, insomnia, and depression.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in five Australians aged 45 and over live with persistent, ongoing pain. It’s estimated that the reduced quality of life and loss of productivity, caused by chronic pain, costs Australia an estimated $139 billion in 2018.

Chronic pain can be disabling and stressful, making it hard for a person to take part in the things they enjoy.

Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies may become more susceptible to chronic pain, so in an effort to better understand chronic pain and in the lead up to National Pain Week, Start at 60 spoke to the experts to better understand the symptoms and how to live a full and active life while managing chronic pain.

What is chronic pain?

What is chronic pain?
Source: Getty Images.

As explained by Health Direct, “chronic or persistent pain is pain that lasts for more than 3 months, or in many cases, beyond normal healing time.”

Chronic pain can be caused by a variety of conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain, chronic headaches, and lower back pain. It can also be caused by previous injuries or surgeries, or as a result of a chronic illness such as cancer.

Not only are sufferers of chronic pain forced to live with ongoing discomfort their quality of life can also be greatly impacted which can lead to decreased mobility, depression, and a decrease in overall well-being.

Physiotherapist at Pollinate Health, Jimmy Goulis says “the area most affected by chronic pain is the lower back, also knows as the lumbar spine and the neck, which is also knows as the cervical spine.”

“These areas are pretty prevalent, but also conditions like arthritis, that’s a chronic condition. Arthritic knees, arthritic hips, these would be the most common,” he explains

CEO and Principal Chiropractor with HealthKlinix Australia, Dr. Ned Khodragha notes that “practitioners continue to see a steady amount of over-60s patients through the door with a number of different aliments. As a generation that is conscious of their health and wellbeing, we most often treat something commonly known as OsteoArthritis.”

“This is wear and tear of the tissue at the ends of bones (inside a joint usually) over time and is common among older Australians. Another type of arthritis is also a major cause of chronic pain called Rheumatoid Arthritis (inflammatory disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue),” he explains.

Khodragha points to “other major causes of pain” that are observed “in the over-60s demographic”, which include:

  • Circulatory Issues
  • Old injuries
  • Fibromyalgia;
  • Cancer

Dr Steve Woodbury from MindZen Group, who specialises in helping people manage chronic pain through exercise, notes that “there are many types of pain that are as unique as each person.”

“In the research and medical world, pain comes down to 5 basic categories: 1. acute; 2. chronic; 3. subacute; 4. recurrent; 5. cancer-related pain,” Woodbury explains.

“While pain comes in many forms, and some pain models put cancer-related pain in its own area, I suggest that practically, in the real-world, pain largely falls into the acute and chronic categories.

“Acute Pain is the normal type of immediate pain response we expect to trauma or tissue damage to a specific part of the body.

“Chronic pain on the other hand, is ongoing, more like a constant, nagging reminder.

“Like acute pain it can be intense and specific with a clear cause. Indeed, any acute pain that lasts for over 3 months is considered chronic. But more often, chronic pain has a gradual onset, more variation in intensity and is more diffuse.

“Sometimes the pain appears to arise from an elusive complex interplay of factors, including psychosomatic causes, other times no apparent reason can be identified at all.  All this makes chronic pain much trickier to treat.”

How to relieve chronic pain

Source: Getty Images.

Nobody wants to live with the burden of chronic pain given its significant impact on a person’s quality of life.

In addition, chronic pain be difficult to manage and often requires long-term use of medication, which can lead to side effects and in some cases dependence.

Living with chronic pain can be a constant struggle and it’s something that most people would prefer to avoid, therefore once the cause of one’s chronic pain has been identified, it’s important to look at measures that can be adopted to alleviate the symptoms and treat the source of the pain.

Woodbury highlights that “there are many treatments available for various pains, which fall into basically treatments of the mind or body.”

“Western Medicine is more reliant on killing pain with pharmaceuticals; the Eastern approach is more about prevention and enhancing your natural pain relief abilities—more like medicine was originally in Hippocrates day (circa 460 BC),” he explains.

“For the body we have physiotherapy, massage, surgery, acupuncture, occupational therapy and the like.

“For the mind we have Psychology in all its various subcategories of CBT, psychological mindfulness, ACT, support groups and group therapies, social work, which are all focussed on talking therapies of some sort; as is counselling.”

Although many would assume treating chronic pain is simply about identifying the source of the pain and remedying the cause with medication or exercise, Woodbury points to a growing acceptance of treating pain with measures that concentrate on the connection with the mind and the body.

“Mind-Body connecting treatments come from a history of Eastern approaches that include things like proper meditation, and the movement therapies like Yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi that are designed to get mind and body working together,” Woodbury says.

“Recently mainstream psychology is embracing more of aspects of the Eastern approaches; and also, things like patting animals, painting and drawing, or listening to music, that when done through a psychologist or psychiatrist is known as Animal or Equine Therapy; Art Therapy; or Music Therapy. There are the hydrotherapies, the various retreats for wellness weekends and so on.

“You can also just do more of the things you enjoy, as well as developing your own routines of stretching, gym, Pilates, swimming in the pool or beach, and even the more recent fads of Ice Pool dipping. Effectively, anything that helps you improve strength, power, posture and overall mobility is generally encouraged.”

Enjoying a full and active life with chronic pain

Enjoying a full and active life with chronic pain.
Source: Getty Images.

Living with chronic pain can be challenging, but it is possible to enjoy an active and fulfilling life despite it. One key aspect of managing chronic pain is understanding the condition and learning how to cope with the symptoms. This may involve working with a healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan, which may include physical therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

It can also be helpful to set realistic goals for oneself and break them down into small, manageable steps. For example, instead of trying to run a marathon, one may start by walking for 10 minutes a day and gradually increasing the duration and intensity of the exercise.

In addition to physical activity, it is also important to engage in activities that bring joy and fulfilment. This may include hobbies, social activities, or volunteer work. These activities can serve as a welcomed distraction from the pain and can also provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Overall, living with chronic pain can be difficult, but by understanding the condition, setting goals, engaging in activities that bring joy, and managing stress, one can lead an active and fulfilling life.

Goulis points out that when it comes to chronic pain, “what you often see is people stopping movement or changing their behaviour, or avoiding the very things that might help them in the long run. There’s just a lessening of what we call envelope of function.”

“So they start to limit their activities more and more because they’re in pain and they don’t understand why it’s not going away. And there’s a belief that pain means harm. But with pain we understand that the pain that has persisted beyond that initial injury is no longer telling us whether something’s harmful or not. It’s often just a signal that’s gone on too long.

“I think my summary would be 60 plus people should be treated exactly the same as every other population. They still have a lot of lifespan left and they should be encouraged to continue working towards coming out of chronic pain as much as possible. They should get a really good diagnosis and rule out the sinister potential causes of their pain and then seeing a good physio to work on to achieving their goals is important.

“I’m always optimistic that pain can improve, especially when people start working towards meaningful goals.”

This article was originally published on January 27, 2021, and has been updated on July 17, 2023.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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