7 tips on how to manage pain in older age

Ageing doesn’t have to be painful, nor has it to be less active. It means that the body has undergone wear and tear and we have to respect its limitations, but we still have to make the most of life as we get older.

By staying active we are helping our bodies stay healthy but how do we exercise and reap the benefits when dealing with the pain, especially joint pain that may come with old age?

Understanding pain will help manage it, therefore discussing with a healthcare professional will help you set realistic expectations for managing pain.

Arti Upadhyay, Clinical Services Manager in Physiotherapy at BMI The Clementine Churchill discusses 7 tips on how to deal with pain so that you are able to live an active and pain-free life.

1. The best immediate pain relief methods

Applying ice (mostly acute pain) or heat (persistent/wear and tear pain) is beneficial for instant pain relief. However, you need to make sure that ice or heat is applied correctly for the required and recommended time in order to get the best result.

If you are able to take them, some painkillers may help you stay active. Aim for a balance between rest and activity.  Also, sometimes just by simply moving the joint and body, the pain will make the pain feel better because inactivity leads to stiffness and discomfort.

Most pain that is not due to trauma should start to feel better within 2 weeks and it’s is advisable to continue gentle relevant exercises and mobility at least for 4-6 weeks to prevent the recurrence.

Some may also benefit from acupuncture and massage, however this is a specialist technique that requires initial assessment for suitability.  

2. Exercise on a regular basis

It is advisable to do two and a half hours of moderate activity per week to stay fit and healthy. Consider doing 30 minutes of physical activity or sport five days per week and keep your joints and body moving. Low-impact activities such as water aerobics, swimming, cycling and using a cross-trainer may be easier because they place less stress on the joints.

Exercise regularly but know your limitations and set a realistic target to improve and achieve a more active life. Pace yourself to start with and try to do a bit more each day. Keeping an activity diary will help you stay self-motivated and may help you recognise if any particular activity increases your pain or adds in to relieving your pain.

3. Get proper footwear

Proper footwear is important to allow you to enjoy being on your feet. Having room in the footwear and padded arch support and sole may add to your comfort whilst being on your feet.

There are many exercises that you can do without any equipment, so there is no need to buy lots of equipment and make major investments. A physiotherapist can design the right programme for you according to your needs and resources.

4. Look after your weight

If you are overweight it is definitely recommended to lose weight as this can make moving easier and clearly less weight will be carried through your joints. When we are gaining weight we are putting more pressure on our knees, hips and ankle, which may cause deterioration.

Also, the extra weight can increase the risk of developing or progressing arthritis and suffering from pain.  So, by losing a few pounds you reduce stress to the joints and may help alleviate some of the pain.

5. Go to physiotherapy sessions

A physiotherapist will be able to identify the physical factors that might stop elderly people from being as active as they would want, and help them overcome those barriers. Working with a physiotherapist is going to help improve strength, balance, coordination, mobility and ease pain. 

During a physiotherapy session the specialist might ask you do certain exercises like: 
  • Strengthening exercises, learning how to take ownership of what you can or cannot do
  • Coordination exercises, that not only help improve coordination and movement but can also benefit the brain and its functions 
  • Balance exercises, helping those with issues become more steady on their feet and be more independent
  • Relaxed breathing exercises, to improve the oxygenation of the body which helps the brain stay active
  • Aqua therapy and swimming, which can help with mobility and staying pain-free

6. Reduce stress

There is definitely a connection between stress, emotional well-being, and physical pain. When feeling stressed, our muscles are actually tenser which can intensify the pain. Also, stress can affect the recovery, making it harder for the body to heal. 

One of the most common physical effects caused by stress is inflammation. Since anxiety causes long term stress, inflammation is more likely to appear. That same inflammation may cause your joints to swell, which ultimately leads to more pain with your movements.

There are a number of techniques to reduce stress such as deep-breathing exercises or muscle relaxation. Also, maintaining an active life, eating healthy and getting enough sleep will improve your emotional well-being.

7. Invest in supportive furniture

Furniture can also have an impact on achy joints so it is important to get the right type of furniture if you or your loved ones are experiencing some pain. For example, there are specialist chairs that support the natural curvature of the spine and the hips. Some models even come with ‘lift and rise’ features which make it easier for people to get up without straining themselves.

Also, since we are spending plenty of time in our beds, the mattress needs to be firm enough to offer sufficient support to the spine and the hips, but also assist the elderly with getting out of bed.

Arti Upadhyay is the Clinical Services Manager in Physiotherapy at BMI The Clementine Churchill Hospital. You can find out more about our physiotherapy services at the Clementine Churchill Hospital here or to make an enquiry please call 020 872 3872 or fill the enquiry form online. We also have a detailed Guide to Managing Bone & Joint Pain available to download free.

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