We’re living through a quality of life crisis. Seniors across the country have to deal with pain on a daily basis. And there’s not enough being done to stop it. Much of that pain is related to injuries from falls and chronic conditions. Here, we’re going to look at ways that seniors can reduce pain and get back on the path to wellness.
Endorphin Booth: Exercise
Muscle aches and pains are something that can happen to almost anyone. But seniors is especially prone to issues, thanks in part to aging. The problem is dealing with them.
Take exercise, for instance. It has been shown time and time again that exercise is a great., natural pain reliever. Exercise causes natural opiates to be released into the brain. And these opiates help to suppress any pain signals coming from the body. But the problem is that if you’re hurting already, you really don’t feel like doing any exercise.
This can become a catch-22 situation. On the one hand, exercise is great for relieving pain. And on the other, you don’t want to exercise because it’s painful. Not exercising, however, can make the problem even worse. Loss of muscle tone and joint strength can further aggravate any underlying injuries. And weak joints and muscles can become even more prone to injury in the future.
Your doctor will be keen for you to engage in some type of gentle exercise. So if you feel that exercising will be too painful, you can ask them for pain relief.
Meditation And Biofeedback
Meditation sounds very New Age. But it’s something that humans have been doing for countless centuries. It might sound obvious, but one way to better live with pain is to slow down and focus on calming the mind.
Scientists have asked detailed questions about the efficacy of meditation. They want to know the answer to two important questions. First, they want to know whether meditation actually reduces pain. And secondly, they want to know how it does it. Researchers at Wake Forest University sought to answer those questions. They got 15 healthy volunteers and did MRI scans of their brains while inducing pain. Afterward, they organized for the volunteers to have meditation training by instructors. The volunteers were taught to focus on their breathing and their sense of self. And they were encouraged to accept all the fleeting thoughts that popped in and out of their heads.
After five days, they were scanned again. But this time, there was a reduction in pain. The study found that volunteers experienced a 40 percent reduction in pain after meditation classes.
But why did it work? It turns out that meditation and pain are actually very closely related. Meditation activates the areas of the brain used to process pain signals. It appears that meditation helps to partially block, or take the edge off, these signals. And this is what ultimately improves patient experience.
Other theories suggest that it has nothing to do with meditation itself, but is instead the result of feeling less stressed. Meditation reduces stress and this, in turn, helps to dial down the experience of pain.
However it actually works, the results are exciting for regular patients. It shows that you don’t have to be a zen-master to get benefits from meditation. The people in the study were just regular volunteers. And it shows that you don’t need to invest months or years to reap the rewards. The volunteers in the study experienced an improvement within days.
Cut Out Smoking
When we think about smoking, the first thing that comes into our minds is usually lung cancer. Many people know that smoking also dramatically increases your chances of having a heart attack. But fewer people are aware of the well-established link between smoking and pain.
The CDC says that 18 percent of Americans smokes. But according to the data, they make up more than 50 percent of patients seeking pain relief.
But why is this? Part of the explanation could be to do with the properties of nicotine itself. Nicotine temporarily tricks our bodies and makes them feel good. Dopamine is released in the brain, and this makes people feel great, for a time. Smokers get hooked because of the strong reward sensation that it gives them.
At the same time, however, smoking is doing terrible damage to their bodies. Tobacco stops the blood from delivering nutrients, like oxygen, to muscles. And this can lead to degeneration of tissue. Once this happens, pain suddenly becomes an issue. In fact, many of the aches and pains that seniors suffer from are related to a lack of circulation. Lower back pain and osteoporosis can quickly result.
But that’s just one theory. Researchers are currently investigating why arthritis and fibromyalgia seem to hurt smokers more. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that smoking is bad for pain.
If possible, most people would like to manage their pain while using a minimum of drugs. This is where physical therapy becomes so interesting. Like meditation, it’s able to combat the worst symptoms of pain in a natural, effective way.
Patients have many options, as the range of services at McKnight Place makes clear. But usually, the programs consist of a series of therapies designed specifically for the patient. Different patients have different injuries. And so most physical therapies will design bespoke exercise routines to restore function and reduce pain.
Diet And Pain
For years, the medical community denied that there was a link between diet and pain. But in recent years, new research has come to light showing that these early conclusions were false.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, doctors wanted to know whether diet could mitigate arthritis pain. So they put a bunch of patients on a diet they thought was healthy and waited for the results. Unfortunately, the patients didn’t get better, and there didn’t seem to be any benefit from eating healthier. As a result, doctors continued advising patients that diet couldn’t do anything about arthritis pain. The only solution was drugs.
The problem with the original studies, however, were that participants weren’t eating a healthy diet. What the doctors thought was healthy – a diet of lean meat and vegetable oil – was actually making them sick. In the early 1980s, doctors tried again. This time, they cut out the meat and the oil and waited to see what happened. Miraculously, many of the patients got better, and their pain went away.
So what do the experts recommend people eat? They suggest people eat cooked or dried fruits, like cherries, pears and prunes and green beans. Problem foods include meats, potatoes, citrus, eggs and dairy products. Coffee can also cause problems for some people. So too can nuts.
Being by yourself is a surefire way to make pain worse. All you have to concentrate on is the pain itself. But pain can be an opportunity to explore the world and to do new things. You could try out a new cooking class in your area. Or you could go to the local gardening club and get some physical activity at the same time. The point here is that pain is way worse when you’re on your own.
Research by the University of Columbia supports the theory that distractions can help with pain relief. They took 33 patients and delivered pain via a heating device on their arms. They then came up with a distraction, called the “3-back” test. Patients were read a string of letters and asked to say if the letter had been in the previous three letters read out. It wasn’t the most enjoyable of tasks. But it was designed to make sure that the patients weren’t concentrating on the heated element.
The researchers found that the distraction technique worked a lot better than the placebo. Researchers quickly pointed out that the research suggested a non-drug way of dealing with pain relief. It seemed as if playing a game of Sudoku would become the new aspirin.
In the past, the suggestion was that the distraction had to be humorous. An article by Norman Cousins in 1976, stressed that humor could be used to reduce pain. But the new findings reveal that any form of distraction, no matter how monotonous, could be effective.
There are, of course, people who say that the distraction is itself a placebo effect. Most scientists believe placebos work on the basis that people don’t know that they’re a placebo. They’re only effective because they deceive patients. Distraction therapy could just be another placebo effect in action. Although it’s curious that it has such a profound effect beyond the regular placebo used in the experiment.
Doctors have been using placebos for decades because of their purported effectiveness. They will prescribe antibiotics for viral conditions, even though they know they’ll have no effect. But is that really what distraction therapy is? Because patients know that they are being distracted, many doctors would argue that it shouldn’t have any effect. But the truth is quite the reverse.