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Your Later Life 2020

Coping with pain in older age

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Brian Lynch

Head of Communications and advocacy, Arthritis Ireland

Pain in older people is very common and widely accepted as something to be expected and often regarded as ‘normal’ in later life.


For many people as they age– and particularly if they are living with chronic conditions like arthritis – learning to cope with pain can be challenging. However, lots of people have discovered that something can be done. While there are no easy answers, the ideas and suggestions here have been found to work. To appreciate how you experience pain, it is important to understand that everyone reacts to and manages pain differently, and how you deal with your pain can affect the way in which you feel it.

Changing gear by changing your mindset

A way to reduce your pain is to change gear by emphasising things like optimism, humour, a balanced diet, physical activity and enjoying a good social life. It can also include relaxation, medication and keeping pain in perspective. By doing these things, many people discover that they can feel good about themselves. The amount of time you spend consciously thinking about pain will influence how much pain you feel. If you get locked into thinking continuously about it, try to distract yourself by doing something you enjoy. Remember, pain is your body’s message to you to take appropriate action, and not necessarily to cease all activity.

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Pain control methods

  1. Respect pain. If you have increased pain that lasts for two hours after completing a task, do a little less next time, or go about it in a different way.
  2. Avoid being in one position for too long and avoid postures that make you stiffer. Use equipment that reduces stress on joints and makes difficult tasks easier.
  3. Control your weight. Extra weight puts extra stress on your weight-bearing joints, like your knees and hips.
  4. Use your largest and strongest joints and muscles for daily tasks wherever possible, like using a bag with a shoulder strap rather than carrying the bag with your hands.
  5. Try to balance rest with activity. Take breaks when you need them, but too much rest causes muscle stiffness.
  6. Plan ahead, organise and simplify any tasks or chores you have to do.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take responsibility for yourself and ask for assistance when you need it.
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